business news in context, analysis with attitude

By Kevin Coupe

    In addition to writing MorningNewsBeat each day, Content Guy Kevin Coupe also contributes regular columns to a wide number of publications, including the IGA Grocergram. As a regular MorningNewsBeat feature, the folks at the Grocergram have graciously agreed to let us reprint some of these columns.


I have a ten-year-old daughter. A happy, active, physically fit (and if I may say, impossibly cute) daughter who, nonetheless, every once in a while will look in the mirror and say, "I'm fat," or will refuse to wear a particular item of clothing because she thinks it makes her look heavy.

I also have a close relative who, many years ago, tried to commit suicide because of the depths of her depression over what she perceived as a weight problem. This particular relative would binge and purge with alarming regularity, and nobody in her family had any idea at the time. Years later, when her parents were preparing to sell the longtime family home, they found in the attic plastic bags filled with dried vomit, a vivid and disgusting reminder of what had been a perilous time in this person's life.

I bring this up because it seems like the subject of weight is one that comes up with increasing regularity in my day job, writing for MorningNewsBeat.com. But I am beginning to worry that there could be a downside to all this obsession, that we're putting such a bright spotlight on the subject of weight that we also may be putting enormous pressure on our children to live up to some sort of artificial or impossible standard.

Just think about some of the stories that have made recent headlines…

  • There have been reports about the increasing frequency of stomach stapling surgery, with more than 100,000 such procedures performed last year alone.


  • A variety of newspaper stories have focused on the popularity of drastic calorie reduction diets that some people believe will not just make them thin, but also give them long lifespans. These days they call it seeking superlongevity; they used to call it an eating disorder.


  • There was a study released in the The Journal of the American Dietetic Association suggesting that more than half of all children and teens tend to be eating when playing video/computer games or doing homework, that there is a predisposition among young people to eat constantly throughout the day, and that parents generally don't have a clue how much junk food their kids are eating.


  • This kind of behavior is starting to find its way into cultures outside the US as even countries that traditionally subsisted on the Mediterranean Diet - heavy on fish, olive oil, pasta and vegetables - are consuming fast foods and gaining weight. The result: more people are fatter in more places. (A recent study in Italy, for example, revealed that a quarter of all Italian children are either overweight or obese.)


  • Back here in the US, overweight people have become so commonplace that General Motors and other automakers are working to create normal-looking vehicles that can bigger American rear ends without giving up amenities such as cup holders, built-in DVD screens and air bags. And there is even a coffin manufacturer, Goliath Caskets, that…well, you get the picture.



Those are just some of the stories I've written about recently; the portrait of a society obsessed with weight can be seen in sharp relief. (And I plead guilty here. I'm as responsible as the next guy for focusing on this issue.)

What I'm arguing for, I think, is a greater sense of proportion, an effort to put the issue of weight and obesity into some kind of context. It seems like it is just as important to help young people, especially our daughters, understand that weight is just one measure of a person, and that a more holistic approach to mental and physical health is a more appropriate long-term strategy for personal fulfillment. This needs to be done at home, but the savvy retailer can play an important role.

Not that they'll listen to us. But at least if we establish better ground rules and model better behavior, we have a shot at success.
KC's View: