Sunday, July 10, 2011

Let’s Get Real About Obesity: The Problem is Gluttony, Greed and Laziness

I see in the Sunday Star Times yet another article stating that obesity is on the rise (

Well, we all know this. There are a plethora of shows on TV about the obese (I love Biggest Loser, but am sick of them generally), and you only have to walk the Mall to see it to be true.

Otago University Prof Jim Mann has noted the huge increase in the fatness rate, especially among the young. It is suggested that 15 years ago 3200 kiwis die a year through obesity – still only about 20% of the number of babies aborted but 10x the road toll – so it is pretty bad. Now, according to BMI, 1 out of 5 kids are overweight, and 1 out of 12 obese.

According to the article, half of the adult population is overweight or obese. Even with knowing that the BMI is not that great a measure, especially for guys who are heavily muscled (at one stage I had 8% body fat and was overweight), it is bad. As a result, a heap of Kiwis have Type 2 diabetes, asthma, sleep problems, heart-disease, get strokes and cancers. It is costing us a fortune as a nation. It is another symptom along with our other addictions, of our spiritual poverty and decline. As Mann suggests in the article, it is the new 'normal.' Houston, we have a problem.

Dealing with it is tricky. The converse problem is eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia. Indeed, when you confront a young women especially about her weight, you are likely to set her spiralling toward a new problem, which can be equally if not more, insidious. As such, one must approach such things very carefully and in love – the article suggests talking about health rather than obesity, that makes sense.

The usual solution is education, ad campaigns like anti-smoking or anti-speeding, school programs, bans on junk-food, more programs on the box about eating healthy and the terrors of fatness, and so on. These have a place of course.

However, perhaps the best place to start as a Christian is to recognise its real root, gluttony and laziness – as Dr Phil says, 'you can't change what you don't acknowledge.' People get fat because they eat more than they expend. The excess eating then turns to fat, and they become overweight and obese. It is quite simple really. It is worse when you eat the wrong foods, too much sugar is converted to fat, too much fat becomes – well – fat! (Saying all this, it is a bummer that all the nicest foods seem bad for you! – remember though, you can train your palette to like other food).

We have two problems occurring at the same time: we are gluttons, and we are lazy. We are gluttons because consumption makes us feel good. It feeds our idolatry of self, narcissism. This driven culture is producing empty people with a spiritual and emotional emptiness. When they eat, they feel better, that sense of fullness fills the void. I know that, I am a good old fashioned comfort eater, on a bad day. The eating-to-fill-the-void solution is not long-term though, and as with all addictions, you need more and more to get the same desired result. Advertising and junk food are not the problem in a direct sense, but they feed our lust. It is greed.

The Bible condemns gluttony and greed. A rebellious son who is a glutton and drunkard deserves the death penalty in ancient Israel (Deut 21:20) – not in the NT thankfully! The Proverbs say 'put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony' (Prov 23:2), 'for the drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes then in rags' (Prov 23: 21). Readers are warned to avoid the companionship of gluttons (Prov 28:7). Israel was condemned for their greed by the Prophets (Isa 57:17; Ezek 16:27). Jesus condemned greed (Matt 23:25; Mark 7:22; Luke 12:15), but still hung out with those who indulged condemned by others as a glutton (Matt 11:19; Luke 7:34). Paul condemned greed and gluttony which of course were an essential component of Greco-Roman licentiousness and feasting (Rom 1:29; Eph 4:19; 5:3; Col 3:5; 1 Thess 2:5; Tit 1:12). Peter too condemned false teachers who lived out of greed (2 Pet 2:3, 14). 

With this in mind, the first half of the solution is to stop eating so much and living out of greed. We need to stop consuming as much. And what we consume, needs to be good food – God's unprocessed stuff like fruit, veges etc, is the best. We need to get the portion sizes right too, that is key. My weakness is here, I eat well, but I like to eat a lot!

The other problem is our laziness. In our western society in particular, we simply do not move about enough. We sit in front of screens grazing or pigging out. We travel by car in the main, to work, to school, to almost everywhere. We sit at desks. We pay people to do the lawns. We are, to put it bluntly, lazy. Laziness is also condemned in the Bible. The writer of Proverbs tells the sluggard that it is wise to observe and emulate the business of the ant (Prov 6:6). It condemns those who sleep in as 'sluggards' or 'lazybones' (Prov 6:9). Laziness drowsiness and produces poverty (Prov 10:4; 15:19; 19:15; 20:4; 21:25; 26:14-16; Eccl 10:18; 11:6), hard work the converse (Prov 12:24, 27; 31:27). In Prov 13:4 is written, 'a sluggard's appetite is never filled'; summing up our societies essential problem. The lazy person is written off as stupid (Prov 24:30). The NT also condemns laziness (Matt 25:26; 1 Thess 5;14; 2 Thess 3:6-7, 11; Tit 1:12; 1 Tim 5:13; Heb 6:12).

As we know we live in this sort of environment, and our society isn't likely to change much for a while, we have to fake the exercise that once was etched into our normal lives. We need to take time out for a walk, a ride, a run, a swim, a gym session, a dance session, a kayak, a tramp – whatever it is that gets us moving. We need to make space every day preferably (or perhaps 6/7 and preserve the Sabbath principle).

The solution then would appear obvious. We eat less and we exercise more.

Of course, it is more complex that this. First, it is not just eating less, it is eating healthy. The cost of healthy foods is far too expensive relatively speaking. We all know this. Secondly, often we do not have that much time to exercise as we are so busy working.

That being said, the solution remains the same and for the good of ourselves, our families, our nations, our world, we need to work it out knowing the problems. If we shop clever and do our own cooking and don't buy our food already cooked or from junk food outfits, we can manage the portion sizes and quality and we can eat well. And if we resolve to turn off the box, get up off our bottoms and away from our screens, we can exercise as we go about our lives. It is possible.

The answer is not really found in schools and education programs, although these have a place and I think we have no choice in a nation where parents are failing their children (the school has to do these things because of parental failure!).

The answer really is found in every home in NZ. Parents need to set an example to their kids by cooking well, and demonstrating their commitment to good health.

I was advised by an old guy as a young dad to ensure my kids saw me exercising and competing. He believed that was critical to teach them the values of exercise, and how to win and lose. So I did. They would come and watch me compete in indoor rowing competitions, and I would in turn support them as they raced and played. They saw their mum running in races and triathlons. It was part of life. We went tramping in summer. We went to playgrounds and parks more than the TV, not that they didn't enjoy that as well. It is fun to come home from a day of exercise and fun and sit around and watch a good movie or program. It is when all we do is that, that we have a problem.

So, let's face the real issue – it is not advertising, junk food outlets, etc etc. It is our gluttony and laziness. It is a part of our consumerism, fed by its spiritual poverty, and exhorted by its spokespeople. If we get off our butts, cook well, eat less, and get active, the problem will be solved. So, come on NZ, get off your fat butts and get moving. And let's eat well, and in proportion. Enough, time for a coffee and a piece of chocolate – ok, I will have an orange instead, lol.


Constant Laubscher said...

Hi Mark, I totally agree with you that a large part of the problem lies with the parents. For my generation and younger I believe our parents (especially as Christians) have not been the best examples to us (there are exceptions of course). They teach us one thing but go and do the exact opposite - who would take that serious (not going to church but sending kids to sunday school for example)? Also, it seems to me Western culture has so influenced our lives that biblical values (as found in Proverbs for example) are seen as old fashioned or not culturally relevant any longer, therefore they are ignored. Or, we want a loving Jesus it seems, but no one wants to be told what to do, especially not by Jesus' ethics. Or, there is the "do not judge me" response if anyone asserts that there is a better way (maybe because it was not always done in love). Maybe the low down is that we just don't want to hear the truth?

One thing I disagree with though. That healthy food is expensive (although I concede that food prices are rising). I cook for myself at the moment, and so far I have been able to buy and eat healthy food (and I am on a tight budget). It is doable, it just takes extra effort and a keen interest in cooking. This is where education comes in. And exercise of course :)

One thing is for sure, the time has come for parents to man up and actually live out what they believe (or walk the talk so to say). Teaching by example as opposed to just imparting information to our children is a powerful tool we seldom use today in the West. This will be one of the biggest challenges for our younger generations of Christians as we move through adulthood. To model Jesus who led by example.

I agree with you, sloth and gluttony is definitely the cause of many problems today.

Mark Keown said...

Thanks Constant. I would say in response on the healthy food thing that it is expensive when you are feeding a family. Take for example a family with four kids in their teens. If they get a good feed of protein, enough fruit and veges, milk and bread these days, it costs a small fortune. I know, we have done that for the last few years. Feeding yourself is one thing, throw in doctors, schooling costs, clothes, transport, and all the other things that today's world costs, and it is horrendous out there.
Sorry, I can't agree with you.

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