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P.O. Box 2633 MPO,
Vancouver, British Columbia,
Canada V6B 3W8
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  • Volume Eight, Number Eight: December 2003


    Fat Fights at the Gym

    John Hughes

    Despite its pretensions to national unity, Canada is a country of numerous contradictions. Don’t think so? Why, then, does the Canadian constitution guarantee not only “peace [and] order” but also “good government” when the Liberals have been in power for 10 years? And what of our famed role as international peacekeepers when we dearly love fisticuffs in hockey? We believe the national tendency is one way and we hasten to the task of proving ourselves wrong. Our most confusing departure from logic, however, is in our relationship to government services.

    Fighting FatCanadians (mostly) adore their nationally accessible health plan. Debate on how many billions of dollars ought to be poured into the health budget rages endlessly. But why all the fuss? Do we really care in the end? Much of the evidence says that we do not. Canadians are fat. Fifty-seven percent of Canadian men and 30 percent of women are anyway, according to the CBC. Can we really give two hoots about our health if we are not even willing to take responsibility for the basics? This is a question that has been bandied about for too long by experts only. It is time that Canadians in position to make the most telling observations were asked what they thought.

    BCIT recreation staff member Matt Buxton told the Columbia Journal what he noticed about the size of Canadians. Surprise, surprise, Buxton reported, “a lot of obese people wandering around.” He couldn’t say for sure if the number of obese folks he had seen matched the lofty CBC total but it was pretty close. His most surprising observation was that there were at least as many plus-sized folk in the gym as there were on the street. Could the health-obsessed/fat Canadian contradiction be running aground on shores of common sense? Are flabby Canadians actually doing something about their condition?

    The answer seems to be “yes.” Buxton says the flow of unfit people into the gym is a large one, yet it creates a side effect of being “slightly intimidating” to those unused to being in the presence of so many toned physiques. Our faithful gym attendant nevertheless assures us that workout regulars encourage newcomers to become healthy. So we have a contradiction within a contradiction. Those who had let the fundamentals of their heath slide, while probably being part of a majority of Canadians who supported public health, were tangled up in misconceptions of their place at the gym next to physically fit people who supported their efforts. How did things get so twisted and what to do about it?

    Buxton’s days in high school ended 4 years ago. He said that during his time in school there was no requirement for students to participate in physical education, and that “you could get away with doing nothing.” If that is the way things are, can we still really be looking for causes of overweight Canadians? The trajectory of fat in this country seems a simple one: people take every opportunity to lose what physical conditioning they have and then risk feelings of intimidation at the gym trying to get it back. Buxton predicts, just as so many experts do, that Canada will soon rival our super-fat neighbors to the south if we do not stem the tide quickly. His recommendations include a reintroduction of mandatory physical education into schools and more government funding for community sports.

    It is a basic plan to be sure, but one that makes more sense than anything else on offer lately. Besides, it is cheaper to spend taxpayers’ money on sports programs now rather than on health in years to come. Maybe if we take the Buxton plan to heart Canada will be able to rid itself of at least one of its contradictions.               

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