Just say ‘no’


Americans really are the ultimate rationalizers.

More than 75 percent of obese Americans ("obese" describes one-third of all Americans to begin with) say they have somewhat or very healthy eating habits.

Only 11 percent of morbidly obese Americans, or those essentially near death’s door because they are so extremely overweight, admit their eating habits are "not at all healthy."

In contrast 64 percent of the morbidly obese say their eating habits are very or somewhat healthy. Wow.

When it comes to just being overweight, which includes two-thirds of all Americans, more than 80 percent, say they have very or somewhat healthy eating habits.

Forty percent of the obese said they exercised vigorously for twenty minutes a day three times a week. "Vigorous" was not defined.

Houston, I think we have a perception problem.

These findings are from Thomson Medstat Research, the health-care information research firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich., which recently conducted the study via 12,000 phone interviews. The goal was to assess people’s attitudes about their weight and health habits.

Americans are an interesting breed. In some ways we may obsess about our weight as never before — "we’re doing ‘low-carb’ this month!" — and yet we are fatter than ever before and we’re getting fatter at faster rates. This has deadly consequences, including significantly raising rates of cancer, stroke, diabetes and a host of other diseases. Plus it just can’t make people feel good about going about their daily activities, much less their. lives.

But we just don’t stop. Today we are a people who have lost any sense of being able to say "no" to any unhealthy passions ourselves, or make value judgments about those who won’t. Combine that with the fact that today food is so cheap and easy to get or grab _ the portion-sizes of food in restaurants today alone staggers the imagination _ and we’ve got one dangerous, obesity-laden cocktail.

But what is shocking is that it appears that the majority of those who are choosing to drink that deadly cocktail are essentially saying "Who, me? No, no, this is.soda water." Or as the report from Medstat concluded, "Americans are rationalizing themselves into ever-expanding waistlines."

I wonder if this is sort of like the situation with our school kids and math: American children don’t do well on math tests when compared to their peers around the world _ but they sure feel great about their math knowledge.

Back to the perception problem. Do these overweight and obese people who think they have healthy eating habits really believe it, or are they rationalizing, or do they know the real scoop but they are just putting up a good front?

It may be some combination of all of the above, Dr. David Schutt, associate medical director of Medstat, told me. "People would rather stay comfortable than become uncomfortable in the process of change," he said.

Schutt believes that there will be no one solution to America’s obesity problem. He says that instead _ from changing portion sizes, to education about the risks of obesity, to giving people better tools to manage their weight _ it will take a "constellation" of approaches to help make doing the right thing easier.

That makes a lot of sense, as long as we are also willing to say that the center of that constellation has to be the understanding that ultimately each one of us is responsible for whether we make good choices and say no to unhealthy passions of any kind. Even when that’s not comfortable or easy.

(Betsy Hart is the author of "It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting Our Kids _ and What to Do About It." She can be reached at www.betsyhart.net or betsysblog.com.)