The so-called obesity epidemic has made headlines once again. Another study released this week suggests that obesity on a global level is still on the rise. In the days since this study was published, I have read a half-dozen feature articles and blogs about how we can reverse this generations-old trend. Yet, for all the intellectual studies, discussion, and attention obesity gets, and despite all the good intentions behind solving the problem, obesity levels worldwide are still increasing.
When it comes to fighting obesity, as with many other consequences of our social and technical advancements, too often our thinking is narrow, poorly aimed, and most often searching for singular fixes in small areas which feel good to pursue, but are often demanding and fruitless.
What is largely ignored in all the conversations about solving obesity, is the entirety of the problem; the constant expansion of the many systems which have led to its existence. Food systems. Marketing systems. Social systems. Political systems. Religious systems. Educational systems. Pharmaceutical systems. On and on.
Any one of these systems could alone be considered a monster. Together, they conspire to be a leviathan. Like any good leviathan, obesity is going to go where it wants to go, and will only die when it runs out of the fuel on which feeds it. I am reminded of two fleas attempting to steer the dog they sit upon.
On the surface, solving obesity may seem like it’s all about calories in vs. calories out, changing portion sizes, providing better school lunches, CrossFit, Yoga, using a treadmill, going low-carb, low-fat or paleo, standup desks in the workplace, and even the use of qualified fitness trainers. These may hold some value for some people at some times, but alone these aren’t going to change a thing. The fact remains that scientific advancement and social awareness relating to obesity are at all-time highs, and our collective girth is still girthing.
How’s The Water, Boys…?
While in mid-thought this morning, as I was pondering obesity, it finally occurred to me that systems – all systems, whether they apply to the obesity epidemic, politics, consumer culture, or anything else, is the water that David Foster Wallace spoke of during his now famous commencement speech at Kenyon College in 2005. Whether this was his intention or not, it seems to me that systems, invisible and everywhere, are the water which surrounds us.
If you’re not familiar with the speech above, please bookmark it for when you have time.
We live within millions of systems. We navigate and transcend them, never really seeing their entirety, and always under the influence of delusion, believing we possess some level of control. We live, breathe, act, choose, survive, delight, frown, frolic, and even get fat as a result of our systems. We select our presidents, career paths, partners, and even our gods as influenced by an invisible ocean, and like the young fish who replies to the older fish, “What the hell is water”, we are oblivious to it as we swim.
When I think about obesity in this context, or when I think about any disturbing social trend from air pollution, to engineered corn, campaign finance, political partisanship, landfills bursting at the seams, and even when I think about war, I tend to be more gracious these days in my judgement for both the victims as well as the perpetrators. We are all born under water and begin swimming through our sea of systems immediately, most often with the best of intentions. All the while though, we never really know we are swimming at all. So, how’s the water today, Boys…? Be well. cc
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