Saturday Diary / I may be overweight, but don't call me obese

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Many people say that four-letter words are the worst ones. But the word I really hate has five letters -- O-B-E-S-E.

During a recent visit to my doctor, a nurse told me to look at a height and weight chart, and it turns out that a person in his 60s who stands 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighs 215 pounds is officially classified as "obese."

That disturbing news, along with recent articles I've read about the growing problem of fatness in America, has prompted this screed.

Perhaps I'm in denial, but I don't see myself as "obese." Fat, yes; paunchy around the middle, yes; should eat less/exercise more and lose 10 pounds, definitely.

The fact that I fit right in with this new trend of Americans getting fatter doesn't ease the sting, or the embarrassment.

Having made a living for 35 years in the writing business, I know the importance -- and the power -- that words can have. When I was a skinny little kid, I couldn't stand that stupid saying about "sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me."

Names never hurt? That's a big fat lie.

It hurts being called a nerd or a wimp when you're really bad at Little League baseball and always are the last one picked for a team and then get stuck in right field because that's where you can do the least damage because few hits go to right field.

As for the word obese, I always thought that was for extremely fat guys, like Japanese sumo wrestlers or first baseman Prince Fielder or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Yet, according to that darn chart, I'm in the club, too.

As Seth Meyers jokes on Saturday Night Live -- "REALLY? Really, height/ weight chart? Obese? Really!??"

According to a recent Post-Gazette article, by the year 2030, nearly 57 percent of Pennsylvanians will be classified as obese. Not just overweight, the article noted, but obese, which health care professionals define as being more than 30 pounds over the weight you should be at your age and height. That 2030 projection is twice Pennsylvania's 2011 obesity rate of 28 percent.

I don't mean to pick on Perry County, which is an agricultural area just west of Harrisburg, but fatness really has a home there. My wife and I recently went to the Perry County Fair and, whoa, there were guys with prodigious potbellys all over the place, scarfing down fattening food. I sorta liked being there because I was one of the "thinner" fairgoers.

This awful new report -- called "F as in Fat, How Obesity Threatens America's Future" -- said that some states are even worse off than Pennsylvania. Thirteen states could have populations that are more than 60 percent obese in 20 years.

The report also "painted a dark picture of a heavier population beset by preventable diseases,'' such as diabetes, arthritis and stroke, wrote PG writer Mackenzie Carpenter.

That story is just one of a bunch of recent news items on the issue of weight:

• New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg set off a firestorm by banning the big 32-ounce sodas from the Big Apple, claiming they encourage people to put on weight. Fortunately, sugary drinks don't appeal to me anymore, but I side with Mr. Bloomberg on this. I know it seems anti-choice, but big sodas just don't seem healthy, especially for kids.

• First lady Michelle Obama continues her campaign to get young people to eat healthier foods, avoid fast-food restaurants and lose weight. I wish her well, but hers seems an uphill struggle in this day and age. I see plenty of paunchy kids walking to and from a high school near my house.

• Last week, Kim Bracey, the mayor of York, a city south of Harrisburg, urged her residents to shed some pounds, saying, "Get off your couch and walk. Put down the big soda and get a bottle of water instead." According to state surveys, she said, nearly half of York's children are overweight or obese.

• Speaking of fast-food restaurants, McDonald's now lists the calories in all its meals. A recent news story mentioned a trucker who bought two double cheeseburgers and a chocolate shake -- totaling 2,000 calories, or nearly a full day's worth of calories for many men, including me.

It seems obvious that eating often at Mickey D's is not good for you, but McDonald's parking lots always seem to be full. No wonder Mrs. Obama is on her crusade.

I do have some reasons -- or excuses -- for my being overweight. I drink one or two cold beers a day, but I'm not giving them up. They taste too good. I might even ask President Obama for a bottle of his new White House beer.

At my age, the old metabolism is slowing down and I don't burn off the calories like I used to do. I used to be able to eat a lot more and not gain weight.

I also read an article about how some medications, such as ones I take for high blood pressure, can add 10 pounds or so.

But none of this, of course, changes the health risks of being overweight.

I'll accept that 'O' word, but not the other one.


Tom Barnes is a semi-retired staff writer in the Post-Gazette's Harrisburg bureau (, 717-623-1238). First Published October 13, 2012 4:00 AM


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