Wednesday, May 11, 2005
Turn It The F Off
reprinted here with assumed permission.
(don't you just love assumed persmission!?)
IT IS not enough to have just one figure on the new food pyramid telling us we need to exercise. You need two.
Before you can even think about that person going up the stairs you first have to have a figure at the base of the pyramid. That figure would stand over a waste basket. That figure would throw an object into the basket.
The object would be a television.
That would be a new tea party. Few Americans, myself included, are about to actually do that. My wife wants to kill the TV, but I keep it for OJ car chases, Iraq invasions, and my seasonal affective DirecTV disorder for Green Bay Packer football games.
So if we are not ready for a full revolution of the wastebasket, we could at least have an insurgency. The figure at the base could rise from a couch, point a clicker at a blank TV that says ''off for an hour more." The operative word is ''off." We cannot get on the stairs until we get off the couch and turn off the TV.
Television is the occupying force standing in the way of physical liberation. The government's American Time Use Survey says that after sleeping our eight or so hours and working our eight or so hours, the next single biggest activity is watching two and a half hours of television. Participating in sports, exercise, and recreation adds up to only 30 minutes.
As an interesting aside, it is quite revealing that for all of our current debates over moral values, no activities we associate with ''moral values" -- caring for children over 6, religious pursuits, community volunteering, and reading to children -- come close to the time we spend watching television.
Television has so colonized the nation that the government barely recognizes it as a major impediment to health. When the government announced a few months ago that Americans needed 60 to 90 minutes of exercise to control or lose weight, newspapers and television shows were full of incredulous people and commentators who said such proclamations were ridiculous because the average person did not have the time. It did not occur to any of these incredulous people to turn the TV off.
It is as if the outcry intimidated the government into a silent retreat. The Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services dutifully mention in their dietary guidelines that 38 percent of high school students watch three or more hours of television a day. But nowhere in their ''key recommendations" do they suggest that we should turn the television off. A suggestion to limit ''sedentary behaviors" like television watching is buried in the discussion section.
The MyPyramid.gov website that lets people customize the new pyramid to their lifestyle suggests families should ride bikes together and that people should join neighborhood walking groups. The government explicitly urges people to ''walk, skate, or cycle more and drive less." But nowhere does the government explicitly suggest minimizing television. The only reference to television is, ''Do stretches, exercises, or pedal a stationary bike while watching television."
In their press conference to unveil the pyramid, food and nutrition undersecretary Eric Bost rattled off the dire national statistics of obesity and diabetes. ''If we don't change these trends," Bost said, ''our children may be the first generation that cannot look forward to a longer life span than their parents, something that should be very troubling to all of us."
The shortened lifespans were not so troubling as to tell Americans to turn off the television. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns came to the podium to talk about his diet and how he gets up each day with his wife and exercises for 20 minutes. He said nothing about television. Denise Austin of the President's Council on Physical Fitness came to the podium and talked about getting up before the kids and doing her 30 minutes of exercise.
''Now for all of you who say, 'Oh, 30 minutes, how am I going to squeeze it in?' " Austin asked rhetorically. She suggested that people who feel pressed for time can break up their exercise into 10-minute chunks. She said nothing about television. No one at the unveiling of the pyramid said anything in their prepared remarks about the 60 to 90 minutes it takes to control and lose weight.
If Americans cut their TV time in half, they would have that time. The musical-poet Gil Scott-Heron once said the revolution will not be televised. The revolution against obesity begins by overthrowing the tyranny of television.
By Derrick Z. Jackson May 6, 2005
(summary in brief: get off ass, move ass around, appreciate ass more)