Talk of the Town - Do you want diabetes with that? September 18 2003

I hear America gorging

Sprawl has reached new dimensions. Not only is suburbia expanding, Middle America's middle has gone gonzo, too.

Thank God. I thought it was just me.

Suburbia = fat. Surprisingly, all this driving, aggravation, fast-food and lack of exercise is turning us into anxious, depressed, super-sized diabetics.

That's the recent finding of two prestigious health journals. It's a good thing the news media brought it to our attention, because who actually reads prestigious health journals? Most periodicals in America are more worried about Ben and Jen. And most magazines I get have pictures of ... Never you mind; I read them for the interviews.

In addition to blowing the lard off America's chubby little secret, the new take on suburban flab solves an old riddle. Remember Nixon? Remember him talking about "The Silent Majority" of Americans? But he never said why they were silent. Now we know: Their mouths were full. The only remaining mystery is why al-Qaeda would still bother to plot anti-American mayhem. The Twinkie and the Big Burger are bigger weapons of mass destruction than anything hatched in the wilds of Pakghanistan.

Meanwhile, the models are getting thinner and the cars are getting bigger. I used to wonder at the attraction. Not for the models, that's obvious. I mean for the expensive, gas-grubbing Humvee. Turns out it's the only conveyance some Americans can still fit into, short of driving to work in a Barcalounger with a transmission.

All this at a time when critter rights are supplanting human rights as a cause. We hear about pitiful creatures trapped in confined spaces, fed to bursting and then led away to premature slaughter. Sounds like most of the humans I see stuck in rush hour.

We already have People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and faux fur has become de rigueur. How about People for the Ethical Treatment of People? Sponsored by the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies.

And speaking of animals, bigness is so endemic in American life ("big" being one of the most frequently found words in a census of Hollywood film titles) that it extends to our pets. Another new study indicates that a quarter of American cats and dogs are overweight. Can fat ferrets and pudgy parakeets be far behind?

There's a lesson to be learned here, but the thought of a goldfish with cellulite blocks me from comprehending it. But I do know this: One of the things making Americans anxious and depressed is the plethora of studies telling them how bad things are. Every time I think I'm doing OK, some survey-spewing institute says I'm not.

Particularly since I don't exercise. That's one thing all experts agree on. If you're not raising your heart rate in a positive way (thus ruling out my daily reaction to the alarm clock and quarterly response to dwindling 401k account statements) life expectancy tends to be shorter than a Colombian presidential administration.

Now, it's not that I object to physical activity. When I worked in New York City, I walked everywhere, often to pizzerias for a calzone with extra cheese. But here in suburbia, you have to get in your car and drive someplace to exercise, because actually walking anywhere could get you mowed down by an SUV-speeding soccer mom juggling a set of twins and her cell phone. Not that driving isn't also incredibly hazardous, but at least the vehicle's crumple zone gives you a fighting chance.

There is one exception: the lone idiot I see jogging along the side of the road every pre-dawn morning I'm in the car. I haven't run him over yet, but it hasn't been for lack of fantasizing. Because this guy, whoever he is, isn't content to take his healthfulness and trot it around a nice quiet park. Oh no. He wants everyone to see him being aggressively fit.

It's not that I want to liquidate this athlete entirely — just bump him hard enough to stop further displays of physical culture. No jury of obese people (and that's more than 60 percent of the population) would convict me. My luck, I'd get nine vegan toothpicks and a death sentence.

Where was I? Right, driving somewhere to exercise. Here in the suburbs, we call them fitness centers — as if fitness has to gather in desperate, disparate little outposts amid a sea of chubbitude. I went to a fitness center once, and it was frightening. Everyone in there was already fit. You can't imagine what that does to the morale of a pear-shaped man, or to the self-esteem of porky people everywhere. What we need are fatness centers.

Suburbia, heart disease, hypertension, depression, diabetes. This actuarial likelihood of an inglorious, sedentary end interferes with my plans for a more spectacular demise. I've always wanted to be gunned down by the outraged husband of a French chorus girl.

The eclairs are to die for.


Glen Slattery is taking his dog out for a waddle in Alpharetta.??