Obesity is fast becoming an epidemic in the American culture. While not the Black Death, WebMD warns here that it poses a severe public health crisis. Obesity is determined through a body mass index or ratio of weight to height. A final number of 30 or higher is considered obese. Some examples would be a women who is 5-foot, 5-inches tall and weighs more than 180 pounds. Or a man who is 5-foot, 10-inches and weighs 209 pounds.
Currently, one in three U.S. adults is obese, bringing forth a possible health toll, including high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Another third of Americans are overweight. A National Institutes of Health report showed that from 1962 until 2006, obesity in adults age 20-74 more than doubled, increasing from 13.4 percent to 35.1 percent. The average adult weighs more than 26 pounds more than they did in the 1950’s, according to the CDC.
While there is a physical toll for the obese, there is also a fiscal toll – the disease costs $190 billion a year in weight-related medical bills, according to the American Heart Association. The news has hit home, with obesity being considered one of the top three most urgent health concerns, only behind the cost and accessibility of healthcare, according to a November 2013 Gallup Poll.
The CDC provides here the following statistics:
- Percent of adults age 20 years and over who are obese: 35.1% (2011-2012
- Percent of adults age 20 years and over who are overweight, including obesity: 69.0% (2011-2012)
Obesity is the White Elephant in the American church; it's painfully obvious but nobody talks about it and everyone pretends it doesn't exist. Gluttony is a sin (Deut 21:20; Prov 23:20-21; Matt 11:19; Phil 3:19; etc.) Gluttony is not the sensation of wanting seconds when you haven’t had enough food to satisfy your hunger; it’s the sin of unrestrained overconsumption; it is the cousin of alcoholism. Gluttony is a spiritual issue, not physical.
While a temperate enjoyment of food and fermented beverage is heartily commended in Scripture (i.e., see Deut 14:26; Eccl 9:7; 1 Tim 4:3-4), Scripture decries dissolute overindulgence of any sort. At heart. gluttony is addiction to excess. The addiction to food signals a deeper problem. As Jason Todd observes,
At its simplest, gluttony is the soul’s addiction to excess. It occurs when taste overrules hunger, when want outweighs need. And in America, where upsizing has always been part of the American dream, it’s often difficult to distinguish what is hard-earned achievement and what is indulgent excess. In this sense, even the most athletic and toned among us can be gluttons. Any of us can be.
All desire for excess stems from a lack of satisfaction. I’m not satisfied with my portion—be it the portion on my plate, in the marriage bed, or in my bank account. Because I’m not satisfied with my portion, I then seek a greater portion. But because every portion is a finite part of a finite whole, I am constantly chasing an excess that can never satisfy.
In Whatever Became of Sin? (1973), Karl Menninger described how cultural, psychological language has replaced moral language in our culture. A perfect contemporary example is gluttony. The dieting industry, even the Christian version, focuses on nutrition and eating disorders while sidelining gluttony. For centuries, gluttony was considered a chief sin to monitor - one of the seven deadly sins. The early church recognized that gluttony potentially fosters many daughter sins. As Dennis Okholm says here in his article "Rx For Gluttony",
In a modern context, it might look like this: We work excessively to earn money to indulge our appetites. We envy others who can dine in exotic fashion. We search for the ever-new taste sensations, refusing to be satisfied with God's gifts to us. We spend more on ourselves and thus less on the hungry of the world.
Camden MCAffe offers us wise insight,
A line of comparison can be drawn between the obese state of the nation and the state of the American church. Our churches are packed with messages of encouragement that everyone will want to hear. Let’s face it—when we turn to a Christian radio station in the car, you’re expecting to hear something “positive and encouraging.”
There’s a serious problem to this national church trend. We’ve come to believe that feeling good about ourselves is the answer to satisfaction in the Christian life. So we build nicer churches with coffee shops and cool lighting; we write and read an entire genre on positive Christian life; we hire pastors who will give encouraging messages so that we can leave with a smile. Hey, if feeling good about our belief is the answer to satisfaction for the Christian, then let’s do everything in our power to make sure we feel comfortable and encouraged!
Ignoring an oil leak in your car potentially means catastrophic engine failure down the road. Similarly, the willful failure to address the theology of this ballooning problem in the American church portends trouble ahead.