Friday, May 07, 2004

living too large

Yesterday, In between utterly failing at completing various errands and getting an absurd parking ticket, my mother and I spent an hour at the new Motor City Michigan casino downtown. It's glitzy enough, but it's not Vegas, for which I'm deeply grateful. It didn't overwhelm me and make me feel as hollow as Vegas places. But that's not the story. More interesting than the slot machines, or the cover band gamely sawing away on a stage set behind the bar in the Overdrive Lounge (and can I just say, it's pretty weird to hear 'Surfin' USA' in a car-themed Detroit casino?), or even the incredibly confused gift shop (candy, books by exclusively black authors, $3,000 laptop computers, and some bland mass-produced pottery), was the presence, in the women's room, of a sharps disposal container. You know, the red and white thing into which you chuck used syringes.

My father told my mother a story about being in the men's room at the casino, and listening to two white suburbanites react to the sharps container. This is why we don't come into the city, one said to the other. They even let their junkies shoot up right in the bathroom.

Not so fast, cowboys. MCM isn't encouraging people to shoot up, unless we're talking about insulin. Something I hadn't known is that (per Men's Health and the Associated Press) Detroit is now the country's fattest city, a title wrested from Houston after a few years of floating around third and fourth place.

And with the obesity comes Type 2 diabetes, which used to be called adult-onset, until obese kids started getting it.

ABC News raises many of the usual points: kids don't go outside to play as much as they used to, school cafeterias don't do as much to promote healthy eating as they should, and so forth. There's also some discussion of schools that measure the BMI of students and send home "report cards" urging the parents of kids who score high to make changes in their kids' diets. Which seems questionable, for a host of reasons, but I'm not going to touch that right now.

What strikes me is that childhood obesity seems to rise from a very different source than the adult kind. Obviously if you're a chunky kid, you might grow into the equivalent sort of adult. But I've never heard a woman in the gym locker room complain that she's too heavy because she's playing Nintendo all the time instead of playing outside. By the same token, how many kids say they're overeating to soothe a broken heart?

Or maybe there are more similarities to what children and adults do. An adult may be sequestered not with Nintendo, but a PowerPoint presentation that needs to be ready yesterday. And maybe a kid who overeats, or heads straight for the sugar, is trying to heal some emotional wound. Maybe they learn that doing so is an appropriate response. Maybe children take the cue from adults, yes?

Also, the stuff marketed heavily to kids is crap. Eating lunch in the park with my students last summer, I was amazed by how much non-food was in their lunch sacks: a powder that, sprinkled on wet food, makes it turn color. Obsessively compartmented 'Lunchables' and 'Snackables'. Heavily sugared juices. The parents who pack these lunches mean well, I know, but this stuff is unadulterated trash utterly devoid of nutritional value, most of it. So we feed them high-fat, high-sugar crap now, in the form of super-sized happy meals and all the rest; they get too heavy and unhappy, and then we have a captive market for our low-carb products. Does this make anyone else suspicious?

Appropos of nothing, I've got 'Soylent Green is people' stuck in my head. Or maybe it's the aliens fattening us up for the harvest.