I cannot recall ever having seen an overweight, let alone an obese person until I was in my early teens in Holland.
Of course, one could argue that children are not very observant, but the evidence is to the contrary.
Remember the merciless teasing many of us participated in or were subjected to from a very early age if any of our peers fell outside of the norm. Being relatively short or tall, having flaming red hair or lots of freckles inevitably gave rise to lots of comments.
It was not until the early 1950s that some people started to put on more weight than was good for them. Why then and not earlier?
First, there was the fallout of the severe economic depression of the 1930s, followed by the ravages and the hunger, and later on outright starvation from the Second World War. Virtually all the essentials for staying alive were rationed and distributed by a very efficient distribution bureaucracy. I still have some of the rationing stamps that entitled one to minimal amounts of basic foods.
Fast forward to the 1980s. Economic prosperity, certainly in comparison to the early years after the Second World War, was widespread both in western Europe and North America. The choice of food and drink products had vastly expanded and most were available in virtually unlimited quantities.
Moreover, the percentage of total income one had to spend on buying groceries was relatively low.
Our eating habits also had drastically changed over the years. Instead of preparing food from scratch by stay-at-home mothers, many households had switched to processed meals or relied on fast food in restaurants or delivered to the home.
Furthermore, we seem to have forgotten that our legs were meant to take us from A to B. Adults drive or are being driven to work and back home, not by choice, but most of the time there is no other way because of distances. Nearly all of the shopping is done with the help of the car. Many children are now being driven a few blocks to school instead of walking.
The amount of physical activity during school hours is also minimal and once returned home all too many will sit in front of the TV or computer and eat and drink stuff that is probably best described as junk-food.
As a result of the way our society has gradually evolved, the percentage of people that is overweight gradually increased to the point where now half of adults and one quarter of our youth are overweight, and a disconcerting number of these are grossly obese. This phenomenon has given rise to a whole new industry of weight reduction as its focus. Given the results, that industry is not terribly successful.
The health care industry has not been doing well in containing the obesity epidemic either. Prevention of disease would be the most cost-effective and satisfactory approach to health care.
Instead, most health care professionals are busy dealing with repairing or managing the damage the obesity epidemic has caused. Even many are obese themselves.
If you want to be assured of a job where you will never run out of work, then become a orthopedic surgeon specializing in hip and knee replacement.
The same is true if you become a cardiovascular surgeon, diabetes specialist, cardiologist or family physician.
Physiotherapists, nurses, occupational therapists and many others will also be in short supply unless we find a way to stem the obesity epidemic.
The question is how.
The U.K. has just launched a program to get very young children more active and the Canadian Government will have something similar in place next year, we are told.
Will it help.
We have not changed our metabolism or genetics in 50-plus years, but we have changed our lifestyles and eating habits, and that is where the solution lies. It is a solution that relies on the knowledge and resolve of each and every individual to make some difficult and consistent changes in how we become more physically active, what we eat and drink and how much.
I would hate to see a government-imposed system of rationing, effective as it would be, as I learned in my younger years.
Dr. Marco Terwiel is a retired family physician who lives in Maple Ridge.