A friend shared a new NPR series, “Living Large: Obesity in America”, that looks like it will be running over the next few months on the station’s news shows and website. This video is a part of the second entry in the series, “Mississippi Losing the War with Obesity”.
Before watching I was pleased to note the collaboration between NPR and OXFORD AMERICAN, a thoughtful publication on Southern culture. However, after reviewing the overall entry, my assessment is that it adds very little new or unique insights on conditions of corpulence in the US generally or the South specifically. As usual, the pieces in the series so far and in this particular entry point the finger at individual decisions without carefully considering larger systemic issues involved. For example, note the focus right from the start on food choices like fried chicken, although the audio story does include more consideration for costs of and limited options in groceries. I’m also bothered by the conventional argument about reduced activity as a cause, especially considering that the example of increased activity from the past involves using the narrative of an elderly, apparently impoverished black woman whose former sharecropping work involved slave-like conditions picking cotton. Is this to suggest that such work would be preferable if it kept people smaller? Another problematic example to me is the crowded elementary school buses in Holmes County. The administrator notes that he and his colleagues realized that the problem was that students were so big they could only fit two to a seat, instead of the three for which they had originally accounted. My question is why would students be expected to ride three to a seat? In my many many years riding school buses in the Midwest and the South I never recall being expected to ride three to a seat, even as a teeny tiny first grader. To me, this suggests that the bigger problem is funding, that students are expected to crowd onto the buses in a different way that is perhaps just as alarming. Ultimately, as with so much other coverage I run across on a daily basis, I would rather have an insightful analysis into the larger economic and political issues that cause Americans to have to eat food that is poorly made for them. When the most affordable options–even those that appear the most salutary–are loaded with engineered trans fats and corn by-products, and the healthiest food available is too expensive, what choice do you really have? You essentially have no good options, and those kinds of choices are the ones that lead to a variety of health problems, not just the ones that seem most visible to us through body size today.