That was the message on the billboard I read while heading westbound on Interstate 94 on Monday. We were coming home from a long weekend in Chicago when that message on an Indiana advertisement caught my attention. The message, like the ad itself, was simple. In very carefully chosen words, it was saying, “It’s not your fault. You don’t have any control. Life just happened to you.”
The only other text on the sign was a URL for what, based on the .ORG status, appeared to be a non-profit or some type of charitable organization. Because I had my most precious cargo on-board and wasn’t going to jot it down while driving, I told my 13-year-old – who I confidently assumed would already be phone-in-hand – to text me the URL.
“Bariatric surgeon or weight-loss program?” my wife asked knowing what was already percolating in my brain.
“One or the other I’m sure. Kudos to them though. The .ORG is a nice touch,” I said shaking my head.
Now I’m very intentionally not sharing the URL because most of you don’t live in Northern Indiana and, to be frank, they don’t deserve the traffic should anyone reading this choose to click the link out of curiosity. When I finally did get home and had the chance to plug-in the address, I’m sure you’re all as “shocked” as me to find out that the very compassionate URL immediately forwards to a Healthcare System in Indiana focusing on weight-loss surgery. In fairness and in the interest of full disclosure, this medical system IS technically a 501(c)(3), which doesn’t mean it’s not a business, it just means, by definition, “…It receives a substantial portion of its revenue from the general public or from government.” The site, however, wasn’t about fine charity work, it was shilling weight-loss surgery with a condescending pat on the head for the “victims” of obesity.
I walk a very fine line on this site trying not to be “that guy”.
You know “that guy” who becomes a Vegan and then decides to recite chapter and verse on the dangers of animal protein.
You know “that guy” who quits smoking and then likes to give you a list of all of the carcinogens in a single Marlboro Red.
Or… in my case… “that guy” who loses a bunch of weight and then tries to be the expert in all things health and diet.
I do my best to be fair. I try to look at things from all angles. I’m very honest when I say that, though I have strong opinions, I recognize that I’m speaking only from my personal experiences of what has and hasn’t worked for me.
In this case… I can’t help but be passionate.
Though I disagree wholeheartedly that obesity is a disease, we’ve expanded the definition of disease to a broad enough point where you could at least accurately place obesity under that heading. I think it is borderline offensive that people choose to lump it in with things like cancer and leukemia, but, I’ll go as far as conceding that obesity fits the core tenets of a disease. But, where this billboard and so many other people go astray, is when they convince themselves or others that choice is not involved.
There are people who never smoke a cigarette that get lung cancer. That’s a disease, not a choice.
There are babies born everyday with congenital heart disease. That’s a disease, not a choice.
With obesity, you or someone in your life made a choice. I’m not saying you’re not sick. I’m not saying your health risk isn’t real. I’m not saying that the diagnosis isn’t just as dire. I’m saying there were choices that got you there…. and there are choices that can save your life.
That billboard in Indiana, in the big picture, is pretty harmless. In fact, you could make a pretty sound case that they’re just trying to help people. The question is – does that help? Sure if weight-loss surgery is where you’ve arrived and that’s the best path for you, then so be it. But, that too is a choice. The message that we should be sending people is not they were powerless. We should be telling people that it’s choice that got you there and it’s choices that will save your life. Choice is a powerful weapon. Arguably the most powerful one we posses as human beings. Change starts…or ends…with choice.
The choice is yours. Use it.