IT’S THE weighty subject that Donald Trump doesn’t want to talk about, and it’s not the coronavirus or his country’s ballooning debt. It is, however, a topic of epidemic proportions.

Last week the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released the results of an alarming study that showed that 40 per cent of Americans are obese, with one in 10 severely so. Fifty years ago, those who were so heavy it affected their work or home life were one in a hundred. So it’s a dramatic change.

As is often the case, pictures tell the story better than mere statistics, even when the numbers demand our attention. Some may recall seeing a news photo from the late 1950s, when John F. Kennedy was on the stump as a U.S. senator.

In those days, Kennedy was rail-thin, and may have even been considered a bit underweight. What’s remarkable about the photo is that the hundred or so people who had gathered around to hear Kennedy were no less skinny, even though the Great Depression was long gone and presumably most Americans had enough to eat. It was a time when people performed physical labour, either on the farm or at the factory, much more so than now. There also wasn’t a fast-food outlet or donut shop on every corner. Few could afford to eat out in any case.

Last year, the New York Times reported that Trump himself was obese, likely the first president in recent memory to be described as such. That the leader of the free world seems not to care about his girth is no incentive for his fellow Americans to get their own weight under control. (Barack Obama quit smoking when he was in the White House, while his wife, Michelle, talked up the importance of fitness and healthy-eating habits in schools.)

We are not Americans, but our lifestyles and eating habits are very similar. Most of the American fast-food chains are in our backyard, too. While our numbers are not yet as severe as in the U.S., most of the Canadian adult population (55 per cent) is either overweight (34 per cent) or obese (21 per cent). Thirty per cent of Canadian children are overweight or obese. Since 1979, the rate of childhood obesity has tripled.

Physicians reacted to the CDC study by again noting the clear correlation between excessive weight and a long list of largely preventable ailments, including diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Obesity is the new bugaboo, just like smoking was in the 1970s. “It will be increasingly difficult for doctors to care for so many severely obese people,” one U.S. doctor told the Associated Press.

Is this inevitable? Aside from joining a fitness club, or partaking in long walks, what can we do? For a start, we could at least become more cognizant of what we are putting on our heaping plates.

Mark Twain and John Steinbeck always carried notepads so they could jot down ideas for books when they sprung to mind; they weren’t seen as weirdoes for doing so — their livelihoods literally depended on it.

Given what’s at stake health-wise, it would hardly be considered eccentric if we started daily calorie-counting — on our smart phones, or the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper — just to see how much is actually going down the hatch. It’s a safe bet that many would be shocked to learn that they’re eating for two — without being pregnant, or on a cruise ship laden with sumptuous buffets.

Health scares like the coronavirus come and go. But in the fight against obesity, we’re in it for the long haul.

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