Wow. 62% of Australian men are overweight or obese, and 45% of women. Of course, if breakfast radio-style gender stereotypes hold, the true figure is significantly higher for men and significantly lower for women.
But overall, this depressing figure seems about right. And it is depressing, which is why I take issue with the SMH article‘s suggestion that we’re also getting “merrier”. I’m sorry, who exactly is happy about being a lardarse? What the survey found is that we’re drinking more – drinking to excess is 18%. But that doesn’t mean we’re “merry”. It probably means we’re getting pissed to numb the pain.
This equation of “fat” and “jolly” is one of the biggest lies in our culture, one that probably dates back to a time when most people were starving and jealous of the fatsoes who weren’t. A better characterisation of the fat man came in one of my favourite comedies of all time, Planes Trains and Automobiles.
John Candy plays Del Griffith, the most annoying man in the world – an obnoxiously jolly shower curtain ring salesman. But in an ending of absolute pathos, long-suffering Steve Martin realises that for all his bonhomie, Griffith actually has nowhere to go for Thanksgiving. He returns to the train station where he finally got rid of Candy to find him just sitting there. And of course he invites him home. That scene always brings a tear to my eye. Fat people aren’t jolly, they’re just wallpapering over their self-loathing with humour.
I’m an unproud member of that 62%, which I attribute to a lifelong love of food and lifelong aversion to most forms of exercise. (I haven’t even earned my chubbiness the Aussie way, by drinking, as embarrassing as that is to admit as a male in these parts.) And I even exercise a couple of times a week, playing soccer – and although I don’t profess to have any skill, I do run a fair bit. I reckon I’m doing my bit, but my darn body doesn’t agree. I put it down to a crap metabolism.
But enough of my own personal demons. We have a national problem on our hands. We’re a nation of fatasses. It’s costing us $11 billion a year in lost productivity – not to mention probably more than that in Big Macs. And worst of all, we’re increasingly looking like Americans.
Something needs to be done. Kids have a lame chair to get them to exercise, but there’s nothing for us grownups. So here are a few ideas.
- New warning labels. Cigarettes now have graphic warning labels showing the ill-effects of smoking, like mouth cancer. Similarly, meat pies should come packaged in a box that shows a picture of Shane Warne.
- Human-powered televisions. It should be illegal to power televisions from the wall socket. Instead, we should have to ride an exercise bike while watching TV. Note that an exception could be granted for watching shows such as Jessica Rowe or Bert’s Family Feud, where the body already expends energy through shuddering.
- National Biggest Loser. Forget Nine’s National IQ Test. What we need is a nationwide reality TV show to see who can lose the most weight. A galaxy of prizes could be funded by the Federal and State Governments using the savings they’d make through reduced health costs. Because as the likes of this show and Celebrity Overhaul have proven, Australians only lose weight when there’s a TV camera pointed at them.
- More fun sports. It’s more enjoyable exercising in a group of friends than at the gym. That’s why I like playing soccer – because it doesn’t feel like exercise. But what if this was taken to the next level, and we started playing really fun sports? If we all competed in regular games of It’s A Knockout! down at the park, we’d lose weight and be royally entertained at the same time.
- Refuse to vote for Kim Beazley. He’s obviously a terrible role model for all of us. We’re much better off with the hyper-fit, obsessively-exercising John Howard. Fortunately, Australia’s on top of this one already.
- Magical diet pills. With no side effects, unlike these ones. So much easier than exercising!
- Better sugar substitutes. The choice of Diet Coke, Diet Coke with Lime, Diet Coke with Vanilla or Coke Zero is almost overwhelming. But unfortunately none of them taste anything like Coca-Cola, as opposed to Chemical-Cola. (Which is not to say I’m not still addicted to them.)
- Mandatory personal trainers. Our society is addicted to choice and liberty. These concepts are overrated, and even dangerous. In primary school, they used to constantly make us all do exercise in the playground. (Sometimes it was bush dancing, which was really harsh. But it’s better than nothing.) Supposedly, when we become adults, we don’t need to be ordered around like this anymore. But this obviously hasn’t worked. So we need to go back to the days of people shouting at us to exercise.
- Make it illegal to sell burgers to people. McDonald’s gets us in through the door now with its Healthy Choices menu, which promises low-fat sandwiches and the like. But when you get to the front counter, with the delicious smell of processed cheese and pre-toasted bread wafting through the air, no-one actually orders it. So it should be illegal to order the fatty option. It’s illegal to serve alcohol to people who are drunk, so why isn’t it illegal to sell fat to people who are overweight?
By this stage of the article, I’ve realised that what I actually need – what we actually all need, is someone to force us to be fitter. And I know just the person. Tony Abbott. He’s ultra-fit, sickeningly so in fact, and we all hate him already. So it should be compulsory to attend half-hour daily sessions of Aerobics Abbott-Style each morning. I know that may seem a little reminiscent of the scene in 1984 where they all have to exercise. But let’s face it – freedom and liberty are all very well when it comes to thoughts, speech and so on. But they clearly don’t work when it comes to exercise. Even elite sportsmen have trouble with it.
Now, you’ll notice that in keeping with my status as an overweight person, I have chosen to veil my genuine distress about this in a layer of humour. And in fact have nothing sensible to suggest. Now, time to go and have a cry in private, and perhaps eat some kind of chocolate bar.