Statistic won't be celebrated

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Did you hear the news?

A RAND Corp. study found that the number of extremely obese American adults -- at least 100 pounds overweight -- rose from 1 in 200 in 1986 to 1 in 50 in 2000.

It was in the paper Tuesday, but I also heard it on CNN Headline News. The thin anchor said something to the effect of: "Americans have hit a new high, but it's nothing to cheer about."

I hate the vapid little comments of TV news. Are those 4 million extremely obese Americans really getting together and celebrating their accomplishment, treating themselves to Krispy Kreme doughnuts and Slurpees while vowing to top themselves in another 14 years?

Since my teen years, I've rounded the bases from anorexic to curvaceous to Holy Moley, Geraldine, Hide The Children. No anchor delivering that story to television viewers could possibly understand my odyssey, because none of them is extremely obese, or they wouldn't be on TV.

Having food issues doesn't make one a rare and special creature. You show me a woman who hasn't been on a diet, and I'll show you a woman who's never picked up a copy of Cosmo.

My dieting started in fifth grade. The plan was to consume only liquids. It ended after two days when Mom made lasagna and wouldn't let me put it in the blender.

Later, there was more organized dieting. I've been through one program five times but always quit after a couple of months. It's a good program, but I can't figure out whether my problem is not wanting to be controlled, hating the semiprivate weigh-ins or getting frustrated with the corporate nature of the whole thing.

Or maybe I just like to eat more than I like to read booklets.

No matter how you slice it, all the up-and-down dieting has gotten my extremely obese brethren and me into the same situation -- wondering how to wedge our wide butts into those tiny airplane seats without displacing our pelvic bones.

I almost wish I could be like the plus-sized model on the cover of the latest Weekly World News. She weighs 500 pounds, apparently enjoys lying around in T-shirts and underwear, and she's looking for the right man -- a guy with a great sense of humor and excellent taste.

Good luck, honey. That's tough to find at any weight.

But she's obviously comfortable with who she is. Meanwhile, I'm still searching for a truly comfortable girdle.

And anyway, learning to live at 500 pounds isn't realistic. As the RAND study points out, this country is heading toward a major health crisis, where patients won't even be able to fit on examining tables or in wheelchairs.

I played that card when I called my health insurance company last week after failing to find any weight-loss pills on its preferred drugs list.

"We don't cover obesity treatment," the customer service rep said.

"Do you cover arthritis?" I asked.

"Yes," she said.

"Diabetes?" Yes. "High blood pressure?" Yes. "Heart disease?" Yes.

I paused. "Well, guess I'll be calling you a few years, then," I said.

I hope that isn't true. I'm looking into the weight-loss drug Xenical, because it works more on a behavioral modification basis.

Ostensibly, it keeps you from absorbing one-third of the fat in food you eat. In practice, if you eat something with more than 30 percent of the calories from fat, you will have uncontrollable diarrhea.

My friend Lynn's observation: "Americans are really desperate if we're willing to soil ourselves to lose weight." But we ARE desperate, as the scientific evidence shows.

My hope: I won't risk the unpleasant side effects. I'll let you know how it goes.

Heidi Hall is managing editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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