I have been interested in the USA and in particular its politics for many years. The interest probably started at school where US politics formed one half of the syllabus for Poltics A-level. I’ve visited the country many times and have many friends over there. However, until a recent family trip to Disney World I had not been across the pond for 6 years, and the country has changed a lot in the meantime. Three things in particular stood out: the problem with obesity, the healthcare debate and the question of America’s place in the world. Today, I’m going to talk about fatness.
Even for an American, a trip to Disney World is not a cheap holiday. The vast majority of Americans who go to Disney World are hard working middle class families. Some will go regularly, some will have saved up for years. But the visitors are not impoverished or poorly educated. Most were professional people and from the Eastern side of the country (there’s Disney Land in California for the Westerners).
According to USA Today, one half of all American children are either overweight or obese. I would agree, from my own recent observations. For adult Americans, the clear majority could do with losing a few pounds. Now I know that we are not a nation of stick insects either, but the real difference here is that obesity is closely linked with poor education and poor diet. The proportion of overweight people in the UK is high in Glasgow, west & south Yorkshire and other places where there are pockets of deprivation. It’s no coincidence that Jamie Oliver took his school dinner crusade to Rotherham.
The difference is that in the US the obesity problem is apparently prevalent amongst the educated middle classes. And the size of some of them was quite extraordinary. In order to accommodate these people in their amusement parks the Disney Corporation provides a fleet of battery powered wheelchairs. Consequently, there is little incentive to exercise while you are there. Nor can Disney be criticised for the quality of food on offer. Yes, you could eat burgers and chips every day if you desired but there are plenty of healthier options available. The scale of obesity had never struck me on previous trips and therefore I can only assume that the problem has escalated considerably in recent years. The middle classes must know about healthy eating, but they seemingly choose to ignore the advice of their own medical professionals.
For President Obama, and indeed for any administration, this poses a problem, as the fat middle aged of today will become the morbidly obese elderly of tomorrow who will place more and more demands on the US healthcare system. Rightly or wrongly the current president has tried to address the provision of healthcare and I will look at that in my next post on the subject.