Too fat for church

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Note: If you are struggling with an eating disorder or your body image, please don’t read this article.

People in the South Pacific live well. Apparently too well. According to the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO),1 who I suppose should know about such things, we are one of the fattest regions on earth. Really? Yes! 

Forget about the aesthetics, the impact of obesity on our health is catastrophic.

How fat? Nauru has the distinction of having the highest percentage of its adult population overweight of any nation on earth; a whopping 93 per cent, and they are in good company. Cook Islands (91 per cent of adults overweight), Tonga (88 per cent), Samoa (86 per cent) and Kiribati (81 per cent) are all in the winners’ circle when it comes to heft. And, according to the UN, roughly two-thirds of Aussies, Kiwis, Fijians, Vanuatans and Solomon Islanders are overweight. Only PNG comes out looking good—with less than half its population in the portly department. 

Don’t believe the UN? Well, having done a little travel in the Pacific of late, I am sorry to confirm the WHO report. Everywhere I’ve been, there are inches to pinch, love handles to hold, muffin tops aplenty, big tummies and, here’s a news flash, it isn’t that the seats are getting narrower, it’s that our bottoms are getting wider! 

WHO estimates there are now well over a billion people on earth who are overweight. 

Unfortunately, I am one of them.

Let’s face it, none of us would choose to be overweight if we could wave a wand and have the body of our choice. And for good reason. Forget about the aesthetics, the impact of obesity on our health is catastrophic. In 2010 it was announced that obesity had overtaken tobacco as the leading cause of premature death and illness in Australia.2 It contributes to everything from heart disease to stroke, from cancer to dementia. The cost of managing lifestyle diseases is breaking health budgets around the world, and the human cost is simply staggering. 

So, what to do about all of this? Give up and go back for a little more pavlova? Hardly. I’ve decided to make getting into good shape my top priority. Why make it my top priority? Because I don’t want to spend the second half of my life sick—or expire unnecessarily prematurely. My aim is simply to lose half a kilo a week, every week, for a year. How? The old-fashioned way: eliminating most processed food from my diet; eating lighter for tea; and exercising more before work, at lunch and after work. I’ve even installed a stand-up desk, as apparently slouching in my chair thinking deep thoughts isn’t the way to a fitter me. They aren’t huge changes—they are incremental changes I can live with and not feel deprived. How is it working out? So far I’m on track. Is it sustainable? Check back with me in December!

Individual efforts are all well and good, but how do we as a Church address this enormous challenge? The good news is that the revamped Complete Health Improvement Program (CHIP) has been launched, and every church has an opportunity to join the front-lines in getting our health back. Our part of the world is drowning in its own blubbery excess. But through CHIP, we now have the means to fight back. 

We have to be honest with ourselves. Adventists can no longer pretend to be living our health message, even as we waddle from our cars into church on Sabbath. We can’t think ourselves better than the smokers or the drinkers, when we are killing ourselves just as effectively through processed foods and inactivity. We can’t look down our noses at carnivores when we ourselves have turned into tubs of lard. We have a responsibility—a moral responsibility—to take care of the temple God has given us. 

Maybe it’s time for obesity to be added to abstinence from alcohol and tobacco as tests of church membership and leadership. But, please, wait a year—I need the time!


1. Global Status Report on Noncommunicable Diseases, World Health Organization, 2010: http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2011/9789240686458_eng.pdf

2. http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/diet-and-fitness/obesity-is-now-more-deadly-than-smoking-20100408-rv5l.html

James Standish is editor of RECORD.