As I’ve mentioned before, Americans started getting fat about fifty years ago. There have been a lot of theories and debates around this, but I think I know the primary cause. It’s not McDonald’s. We’ve been eating hamburgers for over a century. It’s not pizza. We’ve been eating that almost as long. It’s Pac-Man. Pac-Man made us fat. Yes, Pac-Man. The little yellow dude who eats little pellets, fruits, and occasional ghosts.
I remember my dad bringing home the first gaming system I ever owned, an old Atari 2600. I probably just gave away how old I am. Anyway, my brother and I were mesmerized by the primitive little thing and the bits of colored light it projected on the television screen. We would spend hours playing at the thing. Pac-Man was one of those early games. And we would plant ourselves on the living room floor, enthralled by the thing. Until my mother got sick of it and threw us out of the house.
And it’s good that she did. That time outside was good for us. And my brother and I both played sports. Football, soccer, baseball and so forth. So we weren’t completely inactive. On the other hand, one of the early games on this primitive system was a football game. And over the years, the things got noticeably more advanced. As we grew older, we were playing football on our living room floor more often than the real thing.
When friends came to visit, we were more likely to play games inside than go outside. The entire dynamic of kids at play changed. We were less likely to go ride our bikes through the neighborhood. Less likely to start pickup football or baseball games. Less likely to go to the swimming pool in the summer.
Fortunately for us, my mother would insist that we spend some time outdoors. Although we didn’t appreciate it at the time, like the little jackanapes that we were. She’d make us play outside for at least an hour. And she’d take the little black box of sedentarism and hide it in her closet if we complained too loudly. Which we did, frequently, because we were insufferable little miscreants. But she was doing it for our own good.
If she wasn’t the one throwing us out of the house, my father would usually make us mow the lawn or some other physical labor on the weekends. Although I’m not sure he did it because he thought it was good for us. I mean, sure, he would say stuff about “discipline” and “work ethic” and whatever, but I still think he was just forcing us to do everything he didn’t want to do, all the while watching our backbreaking toil with remorseless, sadistic pleasure.
But this was also ultimately in our best interests, even though I’m still convinced my father’s motivation was almost certainly that of a brutal, ruthless, oppressive taskmaster seeking to enrich himself by exploiting us for our free labor. The soulless, heartless overlord only paid us with free room and board. And school. And cars when we were sixteen. And college. Fortunately, my brother and I survived the merciless inhumanity of our chores and derived a side benefit. We didn’t blow up like many kids.
But this is less common these days. Kids these days have dads who are nice to them like some cheesy, eighties sitcom dad. I can’t remember the last time I saw a kid mowing the lawn or trimming the hedges. The dads are doing it themselves, while the kids stare blankly at games that are leaps and bounds beyond anything I ever had. This coddling can’t be good for them. Not just for the health reasons. They seem infinitely more bratty than my brother and I were. And we were unholy, demonic terrors.
And even though I don’t play any of these newer systems (unless it’s to let one of my nephews decimate me at something), I gather that it’s changed in another way for younger generations. The games got more involved. Some of the things younger people play these days can take days to complete. And I’ve learned that virtually any game involving Japanese characters with absurdly flamboyant hair can take weeks to complete. And kids these days (I really sound like an old coot, don’t I?) can play against each other online, something that wasn’t available when I was a kid. No wonder no one goes outside anymore. Well, right now it’s because of COVID, but even before, it was rare.
It wasn’t just video games either that caused us to stay inside. The advent of cable TV made dozens or hundreds of channels available. Streaming on the internet made it possible to watch the same channels, watch movies, and order almost anything. We could never leave the house and have everything delivered to us. I mean, we kind of have to do that now, but even before we were sequestered in our homes due to a viral apocalypse, kids didn’t get out much.
And lack of activity is the reason we got huge. More than anything else. As I’ve pointed out before, my diet really wasn’t that bad when I was gaining weight, and I think most Americans are also not doing that badly. It’s the fact that we don’t move around as much that’s causing us to constantly split our pants. Regular, moderate exercise increases our metabolism by over 50%. Adding enough in can allow us to actually eat more than we do now and still lose weight. But thanks to Pac-Man and the little Italian plumbers and the strange blue hedgehog and various other characters that came after them, we apparently developed an aversion to exertion. And we gradually got fatter and fatter.
I guess it’s sort of hilarious that the harbinger of American obesity was a little yellow guy who spends his time absolutely engorging himself. But this and other pastimes gradually replacing our more physical avocations is what truly made us fat. So go outside and do something that makes you perspire. Unless you’re in Florida, because merely stepping into the sun causes you to become saturated. You need to do more than that. What I mean is, move around. A lot. Video games won’t do that for you, unless you have one of those cutesy little Wii things. Sitting inside glued to a screen all day isn’t good for your physical or mental health.
And, I know, that absolutely makes me sound like a cranky old man. But getting in shape only takes half an hour per day, five days a week. Half an hour of running, biking, or even walking. You should do more than that if you can arrange it, but anybody can find half an hour a day. So none of us has an excuse. Assuming you have legs, of course. I don’t want to be ableist or anything.
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