Archive for the ‘Social Commentary’ Category

Obese No More! (Still fat)

November 22, 2012

When I started this journey (again) at 237.8 lbs that put me at a BMI of 35.1, which is severely obese or obesity class 2.

< 18.5 – Underweight
18.5 – 24.9 – Healthy Weight
25 – 29.9 – Overweight
30 – 34.9 – Class 1 Obesity (moderately obese)
35 – 39.9 – Class 2 Obesity (severely obese)
> 40 – Class 3 Obesity (morbidly obese)

In some ways I have been more eager to hit the 202.8 lb mark than making my 40 lb goal (although that will be no small achievement). At 202.8 lbs I am officially no longer in an obesity category I am merely overweight.

I know this is really just some invisible, imaginary and in many ways arbitrary line. However it is a line that is felt, especially working in a health-related field. I constantly see the statistic:

“Two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese, and one-third of adults are obese.”

That emphasis on obese makes it feel like those of us who crossed that line are somehow pulling the western world into the dreaded OBESITY EPIDEMIC. We are pulling down the ship. I hear the word obesity and I think of all the stock footage of people’s disembodied stomachs and bottoms jiggling down the sidewalk on the 6:00 pm newscast. I worry that it could be me!

In reality I know it is not true. Even at 237.8 lbs and 5’9″ I looked more like the cute chubby girl, than I did the 6:00 pm news footage. And as Jimmy Moore pointed out in Fat Head, the “obesity epidemic” is in large part created by the CDC’s adoption of BMI. Before widespread knowledge of BMI ‘fatness’ was measured by a number of different factors including weight, percentage body fat and overall size. But since BMI we now do a simple square and lump people into categories.

BMI is a terrible indicator of health:

National Public Radio
Globe and Mail
The Guardian

It ignores other health indicators such as cholesterol and triglycerides, total body fat as compared to body muscle, and cardio-vascular health. And, at 237.8 lbs I was a healthy woman. No arthritis, no elevated levels of any kind to concern my doctor and good heart health.

However, I do have to admit that BMI is, in my case, a reasonable starting point for a health indicator. Yes, BMI may put the super-fit Russel Crowe or Olympic athletes into a morbid obesity category because their muscle mass tips the scales in the wrong direction. But I wasn’t overweight – or obese – because of an over abundance of muscle.

I’m just plain fat and that is okay. There is nothing wrong with being fat. I’m happy and healthy at a BMI of 35.1 and now at a BMI of 29.9. So, why worry about BMI? Why celebrate my transition out of the obesity category and into the overweight category? Well, because as much as I hate to admit it, I’m one of those people the health statistics are warning us about. I’m not an anomaly. I may be healthy now, but if I keep the weight on then I am increasing my chances for a whole host of obesity related health problems. I may never get any of those problems if I am not genetically inclined, but since I don’t know if I am genetically inclined why roll the dice?

I really don’t know how much I have improved my health or decreased my chances of becoming unhealthy by moving out of the obesity category. All the ‘obesity treatments’ simply suggest losing 10 per cent or 20 per cent of the body mass can ‘greatly improve’ health outcomes. So, I’ve done that. And, I think I’ll keep doing it for a bit. I know more than anything keeping the weight off over the long term is what will improve my chances of staying healthy into old age.

Loving my body

March 15, 2012

I no longer accept that fat equals unhealthy, ugly, lazy or any of the other negative adjectives that are foisted on fat people, and most of all on fat women. Increasingly I also question our perceptions of what is fat. While I don’t deny that I am fat, I am very aware that the social images of “slim” and “fit” are incredibly unhealthy themselves.

At the same time I am coming face to face with the realities that obesity does come with quality of life draw backs that could, if left unattended, become health problems. I am deeply skeptical now of the hysteria around the obesity epidemic, but I do not believe that the concerns about obesity are unfounded.

At my last physical I was given a clean bill of health. Everything is in working order and all of my blood, cholesterol and other levels are appropriate for a woman my age.

This could be a great reason to tell myself that all of my body concerns are in my head. That I am sucumbing to the relentless media drive that fat is bad.

After two years of reading an incredible amount of body size/ body image / feminist / media literacy literature it is difficult to reconcile wanting to lose weight / size with accepting a positive sense of self. What I am coming to terms with is the idea that focusing too much on the size acceptance can be harmful, maybe not as much or in the same way as obsessive dieting, but still harmful.

Recognizing what my body needs is about finding that balance which includes loving my body at the size and shape that it is and still honouring my body when it sends me signals that I need to do something to care for it, which may include losing weight.

Loving my curves!

March 14, 2012

For the past three years I have bounced between 200 to 220 lbs. When I crossed the 200 lb for the first time around 2003 I was horrified. Crossing that mark, I think, sent me into my most unhealthy years since having been hospitalized for anorexia. While anorexia was unarguably unhealthier physically and psychologically, my response to crossing the 200 lb mark and struggles to get back below it have been unhealthy emotionally and intellectually.

I never abused myself emotionally as an anorexic as much as I have now that I am plus sized. Anorexia was very much about control, success, achievement and receiving validation for my efforts… well at least until it almost killed me.

Being fat however, is about failure, guilt, shame, ignorance, laziness, greed, ugliness. I can be made to feel like a pariah, someone not deserving of love, kindness, hope or charity.

Like many plus sized women I have been successful in other areas of my life. I have a good education, I am making progress in my career, I am in a committed relationship of over 10 years, I have strong family connections and close friendships, I have interests and hobbies that keep me busy and entertained. In short, I have a very good life.

So, why was I letting myself get so down about my body size?

I don’t really know.

It is hard to be self-evaluative about media influence, peer pressure, pop-culture medicine and how much all of this does or does not affect self-image. I could claim, as many do, that I am not affected by advertising. But, working in communications, I know that is simply not true.

What I have been able to understand is that my low self-image had less to do with how I felt about myself and more to do with what I thought others were telling me I should feel about myself.

Luckily for me I’m friends with a lot of free thinking women (and men) who are are good at pointing out toxic pop culture trends. I went down the rabbit hole and began to explore fat acceptance. What did it mean? Why would anyone do that? Didn’t they know that fat was unhealthy and unhealthy is bad?

Turns out there’s a lot that I didn’t know. Like epigenetics. Like the role the food industry plays in emphasizing fitness as core component of weight loss. Like the huge changes in the fashion and modeling industry. Like the existence of Photoshop Fluid.

On this journey, I learned to accept my fat body. To even love it. I am more comfortable, as a person in my fat supple soft skin that I ever was with my rib cage and hip bones sticking out. I’m warmer for one, and I have less body hair for another.

My partner who is a wonderful insanely-high-metabolism skinny boy (well not so much a boy anymore at closer to 40 than 30) also helped with this. He met me when I was over 200 lbs. He has seen me at weights ranging from 172 lbs up to 260+ lbs. My weight has never been an issue for him. No… I didn’t believe him either, but I did have to agree with him that after more than 10 years and me having no evidence that he has ever thought my body was not sexy I might have to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.

WhenI look at women, the ones I do find attractive certainly fall into the plus sized category. They are round, soft, sassy, charismatic, and wonderfully erotic in a way that I simply do not find the super-skinny models on billboards and magazines to be.

So, I’ve reached 30, I’ve come into myself as a person, and I have accepted my curves. But, I’m still thinking of losing weight — does that mean I’m a hypocrite?

I know that I don’t know

March 13, 2012

My challenge, when it comes to hopping on and off the diet/weight loss/lifestyle change/nutrition/fitness/healthy body/healthy mind bandwagon(s) is that I really don’t know what is right and what is wrong.

Not knowing what is right and what is wrong is so much more than not knowing how to make the scale go in a downwards direction and then stay there.

As women our identities are so immersed in body size and body shape that it’s difficult to define what is and is not success. Are lower numbers success? If so, how low? What about higher numbers? Like more pay at my job, being able to afford more expensive foods, clothes, entertainment? Is it about numbers at all? What about happiness? Fulfillment? Sense of self? Accomplishment?

Isn’t it better to focus on self acceptance rather than weight and body size? Are the two mutually exclusive? Can fat acceptance exist at the same time as a weight loss plan? Can losing weight be a positive, empowering process or will it always be body-centric and objectifying?

I don’t really know what the answers are to all of these questions. I know what I hope for.

Oh FFS! Not again!

March 12, 2012

Image

In 2005 I reached my heaviest body weight ever at 260+ lbs. I say plus because I simply couldn’t face the scale at that point.

In 1996 I was hospitalized for my lowest body weight ever at 88.1 lbs. I know that weight exactly since I was obsessively weighing myself ever hour or so.

In 1990 I was a relatively normal weight kid, who ate healthy food, prepared at home by a stay-at-home mum, who was into whole grains, whole foods, organic foods, no processed foods etc. I was active and not too concerned about body image.

Today I am heading back towards my heaviest weight ever having climbed back to 237.8 lbs.

What happened between 1990 and 2012?

How have I spent the last 22 years developing a horrible relationship to food and my body swinging wildly from one end of the eating disorder spectrum to the other?

I don’t know.

What I do know is that I don’t want to be writing this blog entry again in 2015, 2017, 2020 and 2024 and so on.

Remembrance Day – For the Soldier War Protester

November 11, 2008
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

In a past life I joined the Canadian Forces, I was a ‘reso‘, which means that I was in an officer stream where I went to school and served part time on weekends, holidays and during the summer. The idea is to server for four years, get your education subsidized and then become an enlisted officer.

I joined for the same reason as a lot of others. My family didn’t make much money, it was a free education. At the time I wanted to be an engineer, all things tech were sexy, and the military had the most tech. Joining the military in Canada was a bit of a joke at the time. Canada has not been involved in a ‘war’ to my generations knowledge since the second world war. We were peacekeepers, two of our three operating subs were in the West Edmonton Mall as display items, and I was pretty sure going in the Canadian Military was still using the Ross Rifle.

On a more personal level I wanted to make up for the fact that when we came to Canada as north Irish immigrants we were seen as terrorists, I wanted to prove my patriotism. My mother’s father (French Canadian) had wanted to join during the second world war, but was denied because he was not physically fit (epileptic). I thought he would be proud of me. Not that he was actually alive at the time. It was all very naive.

I made it through my basic training and lasted about 2 years before I left the military and switched my degree to political science, now funded by student loans. I remain listed in the Canadian Reserves (you never really leave), but short of conscription I have no obligations to join up in the current campaigns.

When Iraq looked imminent I slowly got involved in the anti-war movement. Then I dove head in. I was on the student blockades at York U. I was on the team of organizers that was arrested when the administration decided the permit they signed was not worth the paper it was written on (we were released a few hours later when it was obvious we did have a permit). It was a big shift from soldier to war protester.

I never told the people I protested with that I had been Canadian Forces. I didn’t want to become some cliche spokesperson.

The thing that shocked me the most as an anti-war protestor was the anger of what I can only describe as pro-war protestors. Whom, I still fail to understand. I’m sure these pro-war protestors thought they were supporting the troops, but I would be surprised if any of them had ever met the troops, or a soldier.

I still had some unique access to people in the Forces through my personal relationships. I used these connections to write my masters research paper, which was on the construction of a militarized masculinity as a heroic figure in our culture. When I talked to members they spoke to me freely about their opinions on Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of the members I talked to were against both campaigns. One officer I spoke to said that 60% of the troops this officer had, had already expressed that they hoped the Canadian government would not send them into Iraq. Nevertheless, soldiers are soldiers. They do understand the commitments they’ve made, and they would go, if they were asked.

If Iraq or Afghanistan had happened while I was still a reso I don’t know that it would have been as easy for me to walk away. I’m almost certain that I would be in Afghanistan right now.

I know is seems counter intuitive to be a reservist and to be a war-protestor. But, there are lots of us. I’m sure there are people who would hate us for it. I think that’s part of why I do it.

I protest war, Iraq and Afghanistan particularly because they are political wars. I know there is a time and place where militarism is needed. War will mean our soldiers will die, and our soldiers accept that. The problem is that our political administrations accept that too easily. When we decide to pay for a political cause in blood, then I want to know that there is an iron-clad reason that we are sending people to die. I want to know that we have exhausted every single other diplomatic option before we write the check in numbers of bodies. I was not convinced of this with Iraq or Afghanistan.

Being against the war does not mean that I do not support our troops. I think we do need military funding to get our troops the equipment they need to get the job done. I think we do need to get our troops our as soon as possible, bearing in mind that we now have an obligation to the citizens of Afghanistan.

I know that the soldiers who have been in Afghanistan are in conflict between a desire to get out of a personal hell and a reluctance to see NATO troops leave because they know what will happen to the people and the country. A country where they have seen pain, suffering, hope and pride in a way that does not exist in a developed nation like Canada. I know our soldiers are doing the best job they possibly can in terrible circumstances. I know our soldiers screw up sometimes, make bad judgement calls, and questionable actions. I know that I can’t second guess these as I am not there.

What I can do is put pressure on our government to get our soldiers out of this situation. To put pressure on the government to use more diplomatic avenues and less military ones, to send more aid, more food, more infrastructure. And, most importantly to think more next time before they pay with lives again.

I am a soldier. I am a war protestor. These are not mutually exclusive identities.

On remembrance day (and everyday), I remember Mark a boy from my street, he died in Afghanistan, I remember 3 others who are in Afghanistan, and I remember my civic duties to do the best that I can to make our government THINK before paying with our lives.

Thank You Americans – From Canada

November 5, 2008

As a Canadian I am not sure if American’s are aware of exactly how closely the world watches American politics. Watching an American election is a hard thing to do as a non-citizen. The video’s that came out during the campaign of some McCain supporters who were so obviously ignorant and full of hate are baffling. America is undoubtedly the most powerful nation on earth, and it is hard to understand why when we see such ignorance, short term thinking and outright hate. It is often hard to know if we should be hoping for the USA to fall and let another world power rise, or if we should dare hope for change to be possible within the USA.

Today, Americans have shown us why the USA is a world leader. Voters in the US have given us reason for hope. Reason to believe that American will not turn inwards, letting itself be ripped apart by hate and the religious extremism it is claiming to fight elsewhere.

For Canadians, I believe many of us will wake up with a political hang over tomorrow morning with an acute awareness of how far we need to go in our own country. With our own federal election not even a month behind us Canadians will now have to give up our smug progressive mantle. It is absolutely no longer possible for Canadians to believe ourselves more progressive and forward thinking than our southern neighbours. We will for the next four years be reminded that we voted for war, we voted for the status quo that is rewarding the rich on Bay St. and drowning the towns and manufacturing economy of this country. We voted for an administration that advised the world not to invest in the strongest provincial economy in the country. We have for the first time seen Ontario need equalization payments. We have not looked forward, we have not looked for hope, we have not looked for change.

Nevertheless we can learn a lot from Barack Obama starting today. Barack Obama did not become president overnight, it was a long road. That road was about mobilizing people, the people who did not come out to the polls last time, the people who did not think that politics was relevant to their daily lives.

For the next 2, 3, 4 years Canadians need to strive for the first time since JFK to be more like the Americans. To instill hope in our grassroots and to empower them with the possibility of change.

Thank you, our American neighbours, for being our international leaders.

Canada Dives

August 9, 2008

CANADIAN WOMEN

 

Emilie Heymans and Marie-Eve Marleau

Emilie Heymans and Marie-Eve Marleau

There are few sports that show off the human body as well as diving. Requiring strength, grace, precision and a certain fearlessness to preform twists, flips and rolls from a frightening height. I know that I will never have the body of a diver, however, I love to look at these women. I would love to see more of these women as models. They have fit fantastic bodies that have shape and form to them and are completely inspiring, much more inspiring than many fashion models who look like they may pass out at any moment. There are really no more beautiful bodies than olympic bodies.

Emilie Heymans and Blythe Hartley are Canada’s hopes for Gold in Women’s Diving. Blythe Hartley on the 3m springboard and Emilie Heymans on the 10m platform.

Hartley and Heymans

Hartley and Heymans

26, North Vancouver - 3m Springbaord, Gold Medal Contender

Blythe Hartley: 26, North Vancouver - 3m Springbaord, Gold Medal Contender

Blythe Hartley

Blythe Hartley

27, St-Lambert Quebec - 10m Platform, Gold Medal Contender

Emilie Heymans: 27, St-Lambert Quebec - 10m Platform, Gold Medal Contender

Heymans and Marleau

Heymans and Marleau

Two other medal hopefuls show me that combined with the large number of rowers and kayakers from Quebec that my love for water sports (get your mind out of the gutter) is definitely from my French mother. Meghan Benfeito and Roseline Filion are both expected to contend for medals in the 10m synchronized.

19, Montreal Quebec - 10m Synchronized, Medal Contender

Meaghan Benfeito: 19, Montreal Quebec - 10m Synchronized, Medal Contender

Meaghan Benfeito

Meaghan Benfeito

21, Laval Quebec - 10m Synchronized, Medal Contender

Roseline Filion: 21, Laval Quebec - 10m Synchronized, Medal Contender

Roseline Filion

Roseline Filion

10m Synchronized, Benfeito and Filion

10m Synchronized, Benfeito and Filion

Rounding out the Canadian team are Marie-Eve Marleau who is expected to be a finalist in the 10m platform, and Jennifer Abel the youngest member of the team at 17 years old who is hoping to advance to the finals in the 3m springboard.

26, Laval Quebec - 10m Platform, Potential Finalist

Marie-Eve Marleau: 26, Laval Quebec - 10m Platform, Potential Finalist

Marie-Eve Marleau

Marie-Eve Marleau

17, Laval Quebec - 3m Springboard, Potential Finalist

Jennifer Abel: 17, Laval Quebec - 3m Springboard, Potential Finalist

Jennifer Abel

Jennifer Abel

CANADIAN MEN

Alexandre Despatie

Alexandre Despatie - Gold Medal Contender

Not to be outdone are the Canadian Men. As a woman I’m always a bit disappointed at the fact that the men do seem to get much more media attention than the women. We do get female profile, especially when there are no likely male medals for the taking. Diving is a good example of where the women are being overlooked. Alexandre Despatie is getting huge profile, touted as Canada’s hope for gold in diving, despite having broken his foot in April. I have no doubt that Despatie deserves the attention and the praise, however we do also have 2 women (Blythe Hartley and Emilie Heymans) who are expected to place Gold and 2 more women (Meaghan Benfeito and Roseline Filion) who are medal hopefuls. Aside from Alexandre, there is only one other male diver that has a contention chance, and the other two men on the Canadian team are not expected to make it through to the final.

Alexandre, has also captured the teenage hearts of the nation if youtube tributes are any measure to go by.

23, Laval Quebec - 3m Springboard and 3m Synchronized, Gold Medal Contender

Alexandre Despatie: 23, Laval Quebec - 3m Springboard and 3m Synchronized, Gold Medal Contender

Unfortunately Despatie also peddles McDonalds, with the number of teenage fans he has it’s not surprising when we use sports stars to say McDonalds is good that kids are confused about what to put into their bodies. 

Alexandre’s partner in the 3m synchronized is Arturo Miranda. Miranda is also the oldest member of the team, but you would hardly know it to look at him. Originally from Cuba, Miranda now resides in Montreal.

37, Montreal Quebec - 3m Syncronized, Medal Contender

Arturo Miranda: 37, Montreal Quebec - 3m Syncronized, Medal Contender

Despatie and Miranda, 3m Synchronized Medal Contenders

Despatie and Miranda, 3m Synchronized Medal Contenders

Olympic Inspiration

August 8, 2008
Opening Ceremony

Olympic Stadium, Beijing 2008 - Opening Ceremony

In my journey to get fit I don’t think there could be a better inspiration than the Olympic Games. I have never been a sports fan in the American sense. I sleep through baseball games, can’t be bothered to figure out the rules of American football, loose track of the puck during Hockey, and can’t keep up with Basketball.

The olympics are different. In the first place there are a huge amount of single self-propelled sports. That is: archery, athletics (and all it includes: Track & field, shot put etc..), canoe/kayak, cycling, diving, gymnastics, pentathlon, rowing, swimming, trampoline, triathlon. In addition there are a variety of sports that are otherwise not popularized to the general public that simply spark some fascination.

Olympic inspiration comes from two places for me. First there is the unbelievable dedication that each of our athletes from around the world show to their sport, their bodies and their performance. In most cases they do this with very little monetary compensation, they are usually young, working and simple inspiring figures. The second part of the inspiration for me comes from looking at the actual athletes and realizing that my goals are not that unattainable.

I was born in July and my mother always said I learned how to swim before I learned how to walk. I was a water baby and I remain fascinated by water. If I could find a well paying career that involved swimming all day I just may go for it. As I’ve discovered new water sports they have become part of my inspiration to get my body back in shape. I will be following four events during these olympics: Canoe/Kayak, Diving, Rowing, and, Swimming.

This entry is dedicated to our boating sports. First, let me dig out my patriotism:

CANADIAN ROWING

 

Melanie Kok - Single Scull

Melanie Kok - Single Scull

Canada has a long and checkered history in rowing. We win big, or we loose big. I became fascinated with Rowing back in 1996 watching Marnie McBean lead the women’s 8 to gold.

A few years ago Breakfast Television did a spot on the Argonauts Rowing Club in Toronto. I was really excited to find out that I could do rowing just blocks from my house. Then I went on their website and came to the realization that I needed to drop some serious weight to do rowing.

This year Canada’s best hope for women’s rowing gold is the Women’s 8.

26, 60, 145lbs

Sarah Bonikowsk: 26, 6'0", 145lbs


26, 59, 165lbs

Ashley Brzozowicz: 26, 5'9", 165lbs


26, 511, 170lbs

Heather Mandoli: 26, 5'11", 170lbs


29, 60, 161lbs

Darcy Marquardt: 29, 6'0", 161lbs


Womens Eight

Women's Eight


30, 510, 143lbs

Jane Rumball: 30, 5'10", 143lbs


30, 510, 154lbs

Romina Stefancic: 30, 5'10", 154lbs


31, 56, 152lbs (I wonder if she fights vampires?)

Buffy Williams: 31, 5'6", 152lbs (I wonder if she fights vampires?)


49, 52, 99lbs (team coxswain)

Leslie Thompson-Willie: 49, 5'2", 99lbs (team coxswain)

I’m sure there are some more athletically inspiring pictures out there of these women, and I do hope to post some as the olympics continue. For the purpose of inspiration this is the second type of inspiration that I was speaking about. These women look like my friends, the girls I went to university with and my neighbours. They are slightly taller or slightly shorter than I am, and they have realistic attainable weight ranges.

For all the women out there who think they need to be less than 120 lbs at 5’9″ to be “fit” consider the women above. They are our olympic athletes, they have a good shot at winning gold in the 2008 Olympics, they look healthy and fit, and they are all about 140 – 170 lbs.

Romanian Women Edge Out Canadians

None of the other Canadian Women are expected to win, but we do have some expected to place.

Women’s Quad

28, 59, 160lbs - expected to place Top 6

Krista Guloien: 28, 5'9", 160lbs - expected to place Top 6


26, 510, 154lbs - expected to place Top 6

Janie Hansan: 26, 5'10", 154lbs - expected to place Top 6


29, 60, 163lbs - expected to place top 6

Rachelle de Jong: 29, 6'0", 163lbs - expected to place top 6


32, 58, 163 lbs - expected to place top 6

Anna-Marie de Zwager: 32, 5'8", 163 lbs - expected to place top 6

Women’s Pairs

Womens Pair

Women's Pair


27, 60, 165lbs - expect to place top 10

Zoe Hoskins: 27, 6'0", 165lbs - expect to place top 10


28, 58, 169lbs - expected to place top 10

Sabrina Kolker: 28, 5'8", 169lbs - expected to place top 10

Lightweight Double Sculls

Our lightweight women had a weight battle to make their weight before the olympics, lightweights must weigh and average of 125 lbs for the boat with neither partner weighing more than 130 lbs.

Lightweight Double Scull

Lightweight Double Scull


33, 57, 127lbs - small medal hope

Tracy Cameron: 33, 5'7", 127lbs - small medal hope


25, 55, 125lbs - small medal hope

Melanie Kok: 25, 5'5", 125lbs - small medal hope

The Canadian Men are “Rowing for Redemption” following the huge disappointment when they were expected to win gold and finished 5th place a full 9 seconds behind the leading US team.

Canadian Mens Eight Rowing for Redemption

Canadian Men's Eight "Rowing for Redemption"

Canadians take 5th place as US wins first victory in 40-years. Canada, give them another 40!

CANADIAN CANOE/KAYAK

Sport Yaking

Sport 'Yaking

I went white water rafting for the first time this past July. I was completely mesmerized by the sport kayakers who accompanied us. Our guides were amazing and the sport ‘yakers didn’t need to rescue anyone. They mainly kept us entertained as they did amazing tricks shooting rapids upside down, unbelievable rolls, jumps and surfing standing waves in level 5 rapids! They could look completely serene in the middle of white water, it was truly inspiring.

The big names for Canada to remember in Canoe/Kayak this year are two boys from where I grew up (no, I don’t know them).

Adam van Koeverden, who also was Canada’s Flag bearer in the opening ceremonies, has hopes for Gold in K-1 500 and K-1 1,000.

26, 511, 190lbs - Gold Medal Hopes

Adam van Koeverden: 26, 5'11", 190lbs - Gold Medal Hopes

Mark Oldershaw from Burlington is Canada’s best hope in Canoe in 2008.

25, 61, 207lbs - Medal Contender

Mark Oldershaw: 25, 6'1", 207lbs - Medal Contender

Not to be forgotten, Canada has world class rapids in Quebec and we’ve got a great showing of Quebec women coming out for first runs. The youngest is Genevieve Beauchesne-Sevigny at 22 years old.

Female Sport Yaker

Female Sport 'Yaker

Mylanie Barre - Top six contender, k-2 500

Mylanie Barre - Top six contender, k-2 500


Genevieve Beauchesne-Sevingy - Top six hopeful, k-4 500

Genevieve Beauchesne-Sevigny - Top six hopeful, k-4 500


Sarah Boudens - Top 20 Contender, k-1 Slalom

Sarah Boudens - Top 20 Contender, k-1 Slalom


Emilie Fournel - Top 6 hopeful, k-4 500

Emilie Fournel - Top 6 hopeful, k-4 500


Karen Furneaux - Top 6 contender, k-4 500 - Top 10 contender, k-1 500

Karen Furneaux - Top 6 contender, k-4 500 - Top 10 contender, k-1 500


Kristin Gauthier - Top 6 Contender, k-2 500 & k-4 500

Kristin Gauthier - Top 6 Contender, k-2 500 & k-4 500

All round I’m looking forward to a great Olympics, and seeing Canada and the rest of the world preform.

Fat Tax, Why Not?

August 7, 2008

Is there really a difference between Joe Camel and Ronald McDonald?

The knowledge of the negative impacts of moderate to high consumption of junk food on health are now running parallel to our knowledge of the impacts of smoking on health 25 years ago. The parallels are scary. The first lawsuits have been called frivolous. Individual responsibility and consumer choice/freedom advocates are paraded in front of the cameras; not to counter the facts, but to let us know it is our right to make poor dietary choices. As the debate rages on the scientific evidence and the bodies are piling up.

I can find no credible research that says that moderate to high consumption of calorie dense, low nutrition foods is good for you, or even, not harmful. Finding research on the effects of calorie dense, low nutrition diets is not difficult.

American Dietician Association – Fact Sheet on Healthy Eating on the Run
Government of Ontario – How To Read Nutrition Labels
Heart-Health Canada – Foods To Avoid

If we know with reasonable scientific certainty that junk foods are bad for us, why are we not taking action? Why have we not banned them, taxed them, or at least stopped advertising to our children?

Considering advertising may provide some answers. Junk food is big BIG business. I’ve stolen from Dr’s blog HealthHabits, his entry “Your Kids Are Being Targeted“, and here are some quick numbers on the advertising spending of the fast food and junk food manufacturers in the United States alone.

In short the Federal Trade Commission Reports that the nations largest food and beverage companies spent $1.6 Billion per year advertising products – especially carbonated drinks – to kids.

Here is the question for me, if America’s 44 largest food and beverage companies have $1.6 Billion dollars to spend on advertising each year, why should we not incrementally tax their products?

PERSPECTIVE

Before I get into this debate let me say that I am coming at this question from a Canadian perspective. As I see it there are three key differences in Canada that concern this debate. First, we have universal health care which we pay for through our income tax system. Second, we have controlled government-regulated access to alcohol and (less so) cigarettes. Third, we have mandatory food labeling.

WHAT WOULD A FAT TAX ACHIEVE?

Fat Tax, Twinkie Tax, Junk Food Tax. What I am referring to here is a tax that would be placed on high calorie, low nutrition value foods. Not a tax on individual people who are above a certain BMI or Body Fat Percentage.

    1. An Economic Dis-incentive to purchase junk foods.
    2. Create an Economic Incentive for the manufacture and production of more healthy food options
    3. A revenue stream that can be re-directed into public nutrition education, health care, healthy food subsidies, healthy food subsidies for low income households
    4. A reduction in the social acceptance of junk food consumption.

1. Economic Disincentive to Purchase Junk Food. A tax placed on the manufacture of calorie dense, low nutrition “junk food” has two potential outcomes. It may encourage the manufacturer to produce less junk food as it will now be more expensive to produce. Or, the manufacturer will pass the cost onto the consumer. If the cost is passed onto the consumer there is a wide body of research which shows that junk food is largely an impulse purchase item. Impulse purchase items are highly price sensitive, and, if the price is raised on impulse purchase items then it is reasonable to assume a decline in the rate of purchase.

2. Economic incentive for the manufacture and production of more healthy options. As the forced labeling of Trans Fats came in, there was a scramble by manufacturers to reduce and eliminate Trans Fats from their foods, then splash the news all over their packaging. As knowledge of the negative impacts on health of fast food has spread, fast food chains have increasingly offered menu items that at least appear to be healthier such as salads, soups, apple slices, wraps, veggie burgers etc… Forcing food items to be identified as junk food would create an economic incentive for manufacturers to healthy up their recipes or provide more health conscious options. This would work particularly well if revenues from junk food taxes were used to subsidize the cost of healthy foods.

3. Creating of a Revenue Stream That Can Be Re-Directed. If a new tax is created there are several options for the use of this new revenue stream. First, and foremost for our tax-sensitive citizens this new revenue stream could be tax-neutral. Tax shifting and tax diversification are both very desirable options to avoid continued tax burden on income and property taxes. If we do not opt for a tax-neutral solution, then revenue can be used to create education programs for our public or our children on better nutrition, dollars from the junk food tax could be re-directed into the anticipated health care needs of an increasingly obese population, a three tiered food ranking could be created where junk foods are subject to tax, foods that do not fit the junk food description are tax neutral and foods that are considered high priority for healthy diets could be given tax rebates, or we could re-direct the tax revenue into healthy food allowances or healthy food subsidies for low income families. There’s lots of ideas.

4. Making Junk Food Less Socially Acceptable. It took the Anti-Smoking advocates 25 years, limitations on advertising and many increases on taxation to reach a point where smoking is now increasingly socially unacceptable, and for the first time we are hearing reports of declining smoking among 18-24 year-olds, typically the highest category. In the long run the effects of a junk food tax are not to make people who are currently addicted to or heavy users of junk food reduce their consumption, but to make new entry into this market less desirable with more barriers to entry.

FAT TAX IS BAD!

The primary arguments that I have found against a fat tax are as follows:

    1. Will Not Reduce Obesity.
    2. Hurts Civil Liberties.
    3. Impacts The Poor.

1. Will Not Reduce Obesity. A tax alone will not reduce obesity rates, what is needed is more education on nutrition and exercise, better food labeling, and better health and nutrition programs in early childhood education.

2. Hurts Civil Liberties. Big Brother, The Government, and no one else should have a say on what I do with or put into my body. The Government is stepping into an area of private life where it does not belong, and it will cost the government billions of dollars to implement this tax. It is a waste of time and resources for an infringement on civil rights that should not take place to begin with.

3. Impacts the Poor. There is a socioeconomic relationship between obesity and poverty. Fatty junk foods cost the least. People with lower incomes are likely to have had or have access to less education and will not be as informed on food choices. By imposing a tax on junk food we would be taxing those who can least afford it, and who do not have the same tools to make nutritional decisions as upper classes.

REBUTTAL (Yeah, But…)

1. Part Of The Solution.

A tax on junk food will not single handedly reduce obesity. One tax increase won’t likely impact obesity at all in our generation. If there is a tax increase tomorrow, someone is not going to walk into McDonalds and think “$0.50 more for my Big Mac! I’m gonna go get that $6.99 free range organic chicken wrap down the street instead!“.

To reduce the rate of obesity and hopefully reverse it we need: better food labeling; better public education; more food, nutrition and exercise education for our children; and, less junk food advertising… In short we need a paradigm shift.

A junk food tax can be part of that solution. It can signal societies recognition that junk food, like cigarettes and alcohol are items that society considers indulgences and not entirely socially acceptable. The tax signals that more caution should be used when consuming these products than your average produce isle banana.

Claiming that the junk food tax should not be implemented because it will not single handedly solve the obesity epidemic is like saying there should not be a legal drinking age because there is still underage drinking.

2. Leave Some For The Next Generation.

The environmental movement has made it mainstream knowledge that what we do in this generation will impact the next generation. Every election in Canada Health Care is the number one issue. As we watch the baby boomers retire and consider the increasing demands on our health care system as better geriatric infrastructure and care is needed for our increasingly elderly population we need to consider what can be done to make sure that our health care infrastructure does not crumble.

Health Care is only part of the overall health formula. Increasingly research shows us that for every dollar we spend in prevention we save three dollars in health care costs. No one should be denied health care, but as long as we are sharing the costs of caring for our sick, should we not also try as much as possible to prevent our population from getting sick. This makes both humanitarian and economic sense.

3. Teach A Man To Fish.

The mark of a good society is how it treats is poorest citizens. We know that if you use junk food from moderate to heavy levels you are more likely to be obese, and obese people are at much higher risks for a very long list of diseases and health complications. To argue that we should not impose a junk food tax because it would hurt the poor the most, since they consume the most junk food to me is a complete deflection of the real problems in poverty.

If we accept that poor people are eating junk food because they cannot afford healthy food then we need to address why poor people cannot afford healthy foods. We need to provide better funding to our food banks, we need to provide more direct to family assistance, and we need to look at the cost margins of buying healthy vs. junk foods.

If we accept that poor people eat junk food because they don’t have the education to make better food choices. We are first making a huge assumption about the level of intelligence of lower income people. If we want to proceed down this path the solution is not to provide them with the tools to continue to make poor nutritional choices but to provide them with education programs in the communities, education programs in the schools and after school programs, pre-natal and post-natal nutritional information, and provide primary care workers nutritional educational tools.

CONCLUSION

I don’t see the downside to the junk food tax. We are going to need to generate revenue from somewhere to pay for our increasing health care needs, and I would rather have that revenue cost come from the manufacture and sale of junk foods than from the “Health Care Premium” recently imposed by the McGuinty Government.