The problem with trying to make a correlation between an unhealthy society and highly advertised athletes is that America’s issues with obesity outdate the stars themselves. America is all about the right to choose, right? That is unless you’re an athlete, because in that case, you can’t choose to make a commercial for ice cream because an overconsumption of such might make someone else sick…in case you missed the lecture on obvious that took place around the second grade.
What’s really happening is that society is starting to see the repercussions of all those lax decisions made in the past finally catching up to them, and unfortunately leading most to the hospital when it’s already too late. For example in the Black community, nutrition professionals at Today’s Dietitian reported that in 2009, 15% of all Black people age 20 and over has been diagnosed with diabetes – that’s over 3.5 million. And according to the National Diabetes Education Program, Black people are 77% more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than other racial groups. This makes me believe that there is something more serious going on than LeBron James, something a bit more embedded within our own individual cultures.
–warning: psychology talk–
Cognition, or how we come to understand information, is largely based on our individual and group processes. Frederic Bartlett, a founding father of cognitive psychology in the 1920s, said that cultural patterns become group norms, which in turn regulate our behavior, often subconsciously. These active, developing patterns can long withstand age and find ways to influence members for generations and generations. And unfortunately, Black cultural patterns in regards to food choices, for example, is a predisposed indicator of an unhealthy lifestyle.
According to the US Dept of Health and Human Services, in 2011 Black women lead the nation in obesity, with the entire population, men and those 18 years of age and older included, racking up 39.1% of the nation’s obesity. Damn. Black people seemingly take pride in finding new things to drown in oil and deep fry. Unhealthiness has become a cultural norm for large sections of the Black community, so much so that there are jokes being made about diabetes (ie: “ oh, he’s got the sugar!”). If Wrigley’s came out with a new flavor of gum called “Butter Bubbles,” call Guinness Book of World Records because you will see the largest flash mob of Black people chewing gum in history. And if that ever happens (please God don’t let that happen…), you couldn’t blame the celebrity in the commercial for that. You can only blame those individuals who participated.
Jokes aside, it would be wrong to sit here and say that people are not influenced by others. It’s quite the opposite. We are influenced by everything. Our perceptions are all different, our biases are representatives of our experiences, and our knowledge is product of what we’ve admitted and dismissed from our memory. But to say that an athlete is wrong for getting paid to hold a can of soda simply because it adds more calories from added sugar should be criminal.
Marie Bragg of Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity told that LA Times that “It would be ideal if athletes stopped promoting unhealthful food” and continued on to say that she hopes to see such endorsements become a liability for athletes. Wait a minute…so the answer to obesity is to blame someone else for what you put in your mouth?! I get it now.
Not only is it a blatant and subordinate dismissal of all the charities that stars like LeBron James, Serena Williams, and Peyton Manning participate in to promote education and healthy lifestyles, but this point of blame resurrects the media influence debate, a long, arduous topic that exceeds the topic of food. Video game violence, representation of women, media corruption, etc. Blah etc. Blah. If we become a default “monkey-see-monkey-do society,” then it’s a wrap on the human species. We’re at the point now where irons has to have a visible warning label on it, telling people it’s dangerous to iron clothes while wearing them. That’s where we are now.
But instead of blaming the athlete in the commercial, rather than taking money out of their pocket and stopping them from providing for their families the way they see fit, or alternatively wasting ink on warning labels on household appliances, maybe…just maybe, all that attention to could diverted to the individual and group bases that needs it. Just like the Auburn student who car jacked someone because he wanted to know what it felt like to really play Grand Theft Auto V, that kid obviously has problems much more serious than video game violence. So perhaps in the discussion of how different societies rank nutrition and exercise on their list of importance, focusing on athletes as a potential scapegoat is a misguided waste of energy and attention.
Obesity and diabetes are things that we actually CAN control. Yes there are cultural norms that are automatically weaved into households that contribute to our behaviors. But like my good psych buddy Bartlett said, the most important factor in social change is cultural contact between different groups. We have to learn from one another. Educate yourselves through experience. It’s ok to F up. That means you tried something. But take responsibility and learn from it.
We can’t keep blaming someone else for what we do because that is not an answer – it’s an excuse. That would make us all sheep. All under the guise of follow the leader. But there will always be an exception. There will always be someone that actually uses their head and decides to do what’s best for himself and not out of some type of automatic duty. And I think the more promoted athletes are actually showing this important trait more than anything else.
Researchers are saying that it’s ironic that athletes in top physical condition are making money off of the consumption of unhealthy products. What I find even more ironic is that people are picking and choosing what they want to take from an athlete that best suits them. If you want to remain a lazy sloth, concentrate on the McDonalds commercials LeBron makes and ignore his Foundation that promotes activity. Here’s the mission statement taken from this foundation: The LeBron James Family Foundation’s mission is to positively affect the lives of children and young adults through education and co-curricular educational initiatives. We believe that an education and living an active, healthy lifestyle is pivotal to the development of children and young adults. So basically, it’s OK to have a damn big mac! It’s alright to enjoy a soda! But as long as these indulgences are done only occasionally and outmatched by daily physical activity, IT’S FINE.
What I find the best about this statement and the similar charities other athletes like Serena Williams and Peyton Manning participate in, is the concentration on youth. The cultural patterns that help form our minds, as mentioned earlier by my dude Bartlett, transcend generations and often become family traditions. So for LeBron to focus on changing the mentality of children in regards to nutrition and activity through education, shows a much more realistic measure to combat the unhealthy rituals which plague society – and it’s collective arteries. Something that I find to be a much more realistic, and helpful solution than just pointing the finger.
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