Should Obesity Be Considered a Handicap?

I stood at my gate yesterday, ready to board the plane as soon as they finished up with the earlier boarding group, which included with ‘those requiring assistance’ and those with small children under two.

For my flight, there happened to be three people in wheelchairs, two elderly and one with an injury. Fair enough; it obviously made sense that they should board first as they may need a bit more time to get comfortably seated. Babies and small kids, sure, that made sense, too, in order to allow mom to properly settle them in and hopefully engage the little ones in a new book or plane-friendly activity.

I began to think, though, about the category of ‘those requiring special assistance’ and then, the classification of ‘handicapped’ in general.

Incidentally, please forgive me if the use of this word is offensive; my own mom is now in a wheelchair full time and she uses the term to describe herself, so I can only presume that it’s not all that antiquated.

On that note, my mom is in a wheelchair because the MS she’s been courageously living with for nearly four decades has finally taken its toll on her legs. She didn’t have any control over it. All of us see examples of this type of thing every day. People born without a limb, or the ability to ever walk. Regardless of whether they themselves consider any of their individual challenges to be a handicap or if they feel they need special consideration or assistance, it would be well within their rights to feel that way.

And here I go…

So where does obesity fit into this picture?

If someone has eaten themselves into oblivion to the point where they can no longer walk, need to use a thing called a ‘people- mover’ to navigate around in public places, place a huge financial burden not only on themselves, but also on our healthcare system as whole and, in keeping with this blog topic, needs to purchase two airline seats as one simply isn’t big enough?

It seems unfair and unacceptable, actually, to consider these two different demographics one in the same.

In other words, if someone chooses to allow their body to become ‘handicapped’, if you will, where does the responsibility lie?

I recall a race a few years ago which was held at Disney World and my, oh my, was that a horrifying wake up call. The sheer number of young, obese children we saw was enough to bring tears to my eyes. Some, too young to know what their path was likely to be, happily chowed down on gigantic spools of cotton candy, milkshakes nearly as tall as they were and cheese covered fries… right along with their parents, who were also significantly overweight. Others, perhaps a bit older and more savvy as to how their bodies were growing out of control, seemed to display hints of being physically uncomfortable.

Those young kids may not have a choice…yet. At an early age, we eat what our parents give us and, aside for perhaps some fussing now and then or the occasional food phase, there’s really not much debate over it.

As we mature, though, we can begin to learn and become more educated about what to eat, but then, that’s only if there is a resource or place where that accurate information is being presented!

In some cases, school teachers may have taken the initiative to learn about true healthy eating and moving beyond the scope of what they’d be doing if they weren’t the ones in a position to directly educate our children. In other instances, kids might learn from a coach, or mentor of some sort, but based on the growing number of obese people in the US, I’d have to guess that both scenarios are, unfortunately, the anomaly.

Therefore, all of us, whether an older child, a teen, an adult or senior citizen, need to think about the fact that what we do, how we move and what we choose to eat as well as not to eat sets an example for those around us.

It’s not just an experiment in what works for us.

If you’re a mom trying to lose that extra weight and your young daughter sees you on a diet after diet roller coaster, interspersed with bouts of eating fast food for every meal, guess what is going to appear ‘normal’ to her? Or if you’re a dad who coaches the kids softball team at the weekends, and you end every game with a trip to the local cheeseburger and fries joint, guess what they are going to consider regular?

Even for those of us who are not parents, leading by example is still of utmost importance. A perfect stranger might see you, and your lean Paleo physique, eating a fresh, crisp salad with grilled chicken and avocado and make a mental note to themselves along the lines of, “OK. That person is eating vegetables and protein and that person looks lean and healthy.”

Eat food. Move. If you haven’t been doing this already, start now. Even if you’re reading this and you’re as far from healthy as you could possibly be, make a change and choose health. Stop choosing obesity, whether directly or indirectly. It may sound harsh, but I’m being honest and even when I’ve worked with clients in the past who came to me significantly overweight, they said themselves that they needed to hear the truth and not be coddled (or lied to) and told that ‘being big is OK’.

It’s one thing to acknowledge that our skeletons come in all shapes and sizes and of course, not everyone is a natural size 6, or 2 or 8.

Different sizes, different body types, yes, Obesity is OK? No.

Take the initiative, don’t sit back and settle for being overweight. Choose change and start now. YOU have a choice. People born with legit physical issues they must face on a daily basis do not.