Kids: The United States of the Obese

Out of Many OneNike Flex Insert DetailWorking in the fitting rooms, you see all sorts walk in. I liken it to a tavern and in my mind, I call it “Fumi’s Tawdry Tavern of Confessions.” I hear and bear witness to many stories. Recently, however, one jumps out among the rest: the state of health of this nation’s children. With the Rio Olympics in full swing, I see the prowess of mankind. And at work, being that it is Nike, we have gotten a few items of the Olympic collection. One thing that has caught my attention is the use of the US motto as a design detail. “E pluribus unum” means “from many, one” or “out of many, one” and it refers to the union of the thirteen original states with congress and one governing chief.

I mention this because out of these many children who come in and try on clothes, those who are invariably wearing a children’s small are either children of visiting foreign parents or grew up in a very active household. The majority are local children who are more often than not, picking up adult sizes, instead of the corresponding kids. On the days I have to stock the floor, it is always the XL t-shirts that have run out on the children’s t-shirt tables. Out of many, one.

It is apparent that there is a problem. A woman came in and was waiting for her two daughters to try on clothes. Meanwhile, she admired the posters that hung in the fitting room hallway of Alex Morgan, Serena Williams and Allyson Felix.

“It’s not fair,” she commented to me. “They have such fantastic bodies.” As an after-thought, however, as if she realized the tremendous oversight in her comment, she added, “They spend hours a day doing that though.” I felt that I recognized what she was doing: she was admonishing herself for not having the time to work out, though her common excuse, I felt, was taking care of her children. A feeble argument as there are several Olympians who are mothers as well.

Yet her attitude was one she was setting as an example for her own daughters.

There was another mother, on the heavy side, who entered a room with her daughter, who could not have been more than 10. She may have been 4’6, at best, and was probably pushing past 160 lbs. The girl had what I had only seen prior as a beer gut and was prematurely developing breasts that I inferred to be excess weight-induced. They walked in with one XL tee from the women’s table and one XL shirt from the children’s rack. When they came out, as is customary, I asked how the clothes worked out for her.

“The women’s was too low cut,” the mother replied. “The XL in girls fit better.” And as if she felt she needed to explain, she added, “It’s just that she has wide shoulders.” I looked at the woman briefly and just nodded my head. The child’s clothes that she came in wearing consisted of an old tee and hand-me-down sweats from some adult in her family that were haphazardly cut into shorts.

I highly doubted her excessively wide shoulders had anything to do with the concoction of her attire.

And all this reminded me of a dear friend of mine in Mexico City, who was accompanying her sister and niece to see the pediatrician. Her niece, at six years of age, had developed a tremendous eating habit, being able to pack away adult-sized meals. The result was a quickly developing obesity, which, given the family’s devastatingly proliferate problem with hereditary diabetes, was of great concern. As the pediatrician asked the mother a question, my friend intervened.

She was promptly stopped.

“Are you that child’s mother?” she asked. Accepting the shake of her head, she stopped my friend from going any further: “Once this child becomes an adult, her obesity becomes her problem. Until then, it is the parents’ responsibility.”

As the Rio Olympics wind down, I see nations rise to the fever pitch frenzy that unites us in sport. But what I do not see is the notion that we can be like them. That we can push ourselves to the lengths that Olympians do. Or at least try to. That they are other-worldly and god-like, with unattainable powers. That, along with processed foods, excess sugar and bad habits which plague society to a point where you cannot see past the take-out to the hard but immensely rewarding road of work, has created a notion of “stop while you’re still behind.” So instead, we whiled away the time, pointing out how great the end product looked but couldn’t bear to start such a regime.

Change, however, is within each and every one of us. And as the only constant of this life, it is up to one to decide whether they are worth a healthy body. Out of many, one must rise. Out of many, one must decide. And out of many, one must start to love themselves and realize that the many who are obese have dug early graves and one must decide whether to put on running shoes or force a loved one to pick up a shovel.

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