I was watching an episode of The Office on Hulu recently when in between segments of the show a commercial for Kentucky Fried Chicken came on.
It was an ad for KFC’s new Cheesy Bacon Bowl. “There’s a reason our KFC famous bowl is famous,” it began. A man leaned into the camera, as if to share a secret. “We put bacon on it.”
Bacon bits rained down into a bowl of fried chicken, cheese, potatoes and gravy. “Everything is better with bacon.”
Anyone who really believes that everything is better with bacon has an eating problem. And America, you most certainly do. Lady Liberty can no longer see her feet, and it isn’t because she’s expecting a little statue in four months.
Let me give you some perspective. I live in the world’s most populous country, a nation of 1.3 billion where the obesity rate is around 5 percent. You have a population of 311 million people with an obesity rate of greater than 20 percent. You haven’t always been this fat. To get an idea of how quickly you’ve let yourself go, check out an animated map on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website that shows how the obesity rate has exploded from 1985 to 2010. It’s disturbing and will make you pause the next time you think about supersizing your fries.
You’re too car dependent. When I visited you last summer, I had to borrow one because it was hard to go anywhere without a vehicle. In Beijing, I can get to just about any part of the city by bus or subway. The subway system, which was expanded in the years leading up to the 2008 Olympics, has more than 10 lines. At just 30 cents for a one-way fare, it’s a bargain too. A one-way bus fare, at 15 cents, is even cheaper.
Your people sit too much. Most jobs today are sedentary in nature, tied to a computer and encourage people to keep their asses glued to a chair. It’s hard to blame you for this. Industry has evolved. Machines run by computers have replaced farmhands and assembly-line workers, and to keep pace you’ve retrained your workforce to operate the computers.
The Chinese are experiencing similar changes but that hasn’t stopped them from making exercise a part of their daily routine. If you go to a park in Beijing around sunrise, there’s a good chance you’ll see people practicing tai chi. On warm summer nights, it’s not uncommon to see a dozen men and women line dancing to festive music on a street corner. People who are too feeble to do tai chi or dance push their grandchildren in strollers or plod alongside their small dogs. (Because of the city’s population density, a law restricts people from owning large dogs).
There’s an old man I see every afternoon on my way to work who likes to stretch his arms on a tree branch. He’s short and has droopy eyes and usually wears dark clothes that are a couple sizes too big. His branch of choice, fortunately for him, tilts low to the ground. I doubt he ever breaks a sweat, pulling on that tree, but I see him out there every day at the same time, come rain or snow. I admire his dedication.
Nobody likes to be told that they have a problem, especially when the subject of the criticism is their appearance. But then I thought of it this way: If I had a friend who was drinking so much that I had serious doubts whether he would make it past his 40th birthday, would I not step in and tell him to get help? Of course I would. So why shouldn’t obesity be treated the same way? Stress on a heart from carrying an extra 50 pounds can be just as deadly as a case of Miller Lite a night can be on a liver.
America, you’re a great country and despite the recession of the last few years still the world’s No. 1 economy. When superpowers come together to make key decisions about the future, everyone expects you to have a seat at the table. I just want to make sure you can fit in it.