In addition to our sharply declining cardiovascular health, North Americans are in the middle of an obesity epidemic, according to recent press releases from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
This became obvious to me during a recent book tour. I was speaking to several groups in and around Chicago and was scheduled to continue to Washington, D.C., for a series of lectures. I didn’t find out until I was in Illinois that one of my talks in Washington would be the dinner keynote address at the Humane Society of the United States’ annual conference. I realized that I hadn’t packed formal-enough clothing. Since I was staying in downtown Chicago, right near Michigan Avenue — the shopping mecca of the city — I figured I would simply walk into any men’s clothing store, buy a suit jacket, and be on my way.
It wasn’t that simple. After visiting no fewer than six stores and trying on a dozen jackets, I discovered that although there were many jackets on offer, there wasn’t one that even came close to fitting me. Several jackets were long enough but were clearly cut to fit a person with considerable weight around the midsection. The jackets hung off of me as though I were a scarecrow. I have a lean, 170 -pound frame and am about six feet, one inch tall. I had never seen that as a problem — until that day.
Getting frustrated, I asked a salesperson why it was so difficult to find a suit jacket that fit. After briefly looking me up and down, he replied, “It’s ’cause we’re all getting fatter.” Simple answer. And the correct one, as I would later learn. He then said, “Let me measure you.” Within about 20 seconds he had done the necessary measurements. “You’re a 38 tall. We haven’t carried those since the mid-1990s.”
I later discovered that in order to keep up with the escalating girth of consumers, clothing manufacturers increase the size of their garments (the actual amount of fabric) without changing the size label. Or they simply change the labels. What was labeled as S 10 years ago is now labeled as XS, even though the actual garment size has remained the same. Clothing manufacturers know this helps people feel better about their escalating weight but it does nothing to encourage them to do anything about it.