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Fat is More Than Feminist Issue

07 March 2011

Even before we leave La Guardia airport we're in another world. The talk in the lounge is all about - horses. Turns out that they're all going to the World Equestrian Games. We're headed for horse country for sure. In Lexington the airport TV screens are frozen on the picture of jockey crouched on a horse, whip slicing through the air.

But it's not horses that stick in my mind after four days in East Kentucky. Nor the chattiness of the people, or even the beautiful countryside.

It's the fattest place I've ever been. Plus it's way up there in the competition for the worst food award. When I hear home or country cooking now I know it's going to be an overflowing, piled high plate of something that is deep fried, too salty and too sweet at the same time. In Kentucky jello is on the salad bar.

I look up the stats. The obesity rate for the USA is 24% and in this part of Kentucky it's 52%.

Since I've been to East Kentucky I'm on a mission. Obesity is an epidemic that's developed over the last 20 years. Today only Colorado has an obesity rate of less then 20% . Twenty years ago no State had an obesity rate of over 20%.

What's happened in the last 20 years?

It's not the change from farming or other hard physical work, as that hasn't changed much in that period. It's not people eating from tins. Americans have been attached to their Campbell's soup and Heinz beans since the 1950s. It's not even the corn subsidy that means there's corn syrup in everything.

So what is it?

The cheap Fast Food places definitely have something to do with it. It's cheaper to buy a $1 burger or 90 cent piece of fried chicken at the hundreds of fast food chains, than to shop and cook. Why cook? Technology means that we barely need to move - from computer, to phone, to TV, to car. Those Kentucky malls where you have to drive from one huge shop to another don't help either.

And what a crazy culture it is. Endless ads showing smiling people who've lost weight, skeletonal models and TV shows like The Biggest Loser - at some level it's not acceptable to be obese. But as more and more people get bigger and bigger -if you're the majority, how can it be not okay?

Australia is right up there. Sure the USA is number 1 but we're the sixth biggest fatties in the world. At least 140 Australians die prematurely every day of an obesity-related disease - that's more than 50,000 a year. Obesity has taken over from smoking as the leading preventable cause of disease.

Being too fat is not about looks - it's a serious health hazard. Yes, that's the scarey part - we are making ourselves sick and killing ourselves.

Well we've got a model for change. In 20 years we halved the numbers of adults smoking. Let's apply that know-how to obesity.