The Obesity Problem
Today I read an article that tried to shed light on a medical condition endemic to modern society. Obesity plagues our post modern world, particularly in the United States and more particularly in Houston, Texas; my hometown. Houston carries the dubious distinction of having been named the least physically fit, most obese city in the US several years ago. In my general surgery practice I face this reality every day.
There is no question that obesity contributes to the rising costs of health care. Overweight patients can turn straightforward surgical conditions into complex operations that may require significant adjustment or compromise to have a successful outcome.
There is a huge industry catering to the desire of the obese individual to go from size 20 to size 8 or 48 waist to 36. Fad diets, diet pills, lap bands and gastric bypass surgery ads fill our airways, magazines and internet pages promising a svelte and youthful body in thirty (or sixty or ninety) days or your money back.
Today in surgery, while creating a colostomy (always a mind stimulating endeavor), we proposed a powerful solution to this pervasive problem. As background let me say that human beings originally were foragers, searching for their food. Later they became hunters and eventually farmers. The scarcity of food was the driving force in ancient society and wealth was measured in sheep and cattle, rather than dollars.
Of course, times have changed and scarcity of food has become a thing of the past in our developed nations. A casual stroll down the aisle of the neighborhood megasupermarket will result in a cart laden with all the necessities of life. As a matter of fact one need not even make the short drive to the grocery. With a few clicks of your trusty mouse it is possible to select and have delivered to your front door everything you need to keep your pantry and your stomach full.
So, today those of us in surgery decided it is time to return to our ancestral roots. The supermarket should become a place to hunt and forage for food. No longer should the shopper be allowed a leisurely stroll down capacious aisles. No, it is time to work for our food. And, to battle obesity, food that is high in fat and calories should require the greatest work. Fresh fruits and vegetables could require only a short stroll through the “Produce Patch.” However, high fat steaks would need to be hunted, perhaps in a way akin to laser tag, requiring shooting a moving freezer to claim the elusive porterhouse. A craving for donuts would necessitate rock climbing a forty foot wall and Twinkies would oblige the shopper to face a fire breathing mechanical dragon armed only with a sword and a shield.
This very modest plan would fight obesity in several ways. The effort expended to successfully reach the desired food would burn off a considerable number of calories. Those individuals that are unable to put forth the necessary effort would have to forego their fried pork rinds or Ben and Jerry’s and be forced to diet or eat healthy, easily obtainable food.
This plan could solve not only the problem of obesity, but also food shortages in some countries as extra food would probably become available and could be shipped to those in need. A major healthcare issue also would be addressed and in the long term health care costs would go down. Such a modest change could reap benefits for decades.