Having been informed at a young age that being "big boned" is one of my family's genetic traits, I've always gotten comfort from believing that my weight woes weren't entirely my fault.
And, as it turns out, McDonald's, the Food Network, my wife, my slower-than-cold-molasses metabolism and my self-diagnosed allergy to physical movement aren't necessarily to blame for my pudginess, either.
I can also stop cursing my parents for training me to clean my plate because "there are starving children in (fill-in-the-blank-Third-World country)."
That's because, according to a recently released national study, there's a newfound culprit for obesity. Can you guess what it is?
A. Urban sprawl
B. Urban Meyer
E. None of the above
If you didn't pick "A," it probably means you weren't scouring the Internet to find a topic for your weight-loss column (like me). My own diet was pretty boring this past month, so I had to look elsewhere for material. I did lose a few pounds, but a Chinese buffet binge and a couple of "The-Diet-Starts-Again-on-Monday" weekends prevented me from really shedding a plethora of pounds.
If you picked "A," reward yourself, preferably with a nonedible treat. (Insert standby sarcastic remark about your spouse's cooking here, if you dare.)
Sure enough, researchers revealed that people are more susceptible to obesity and high blood pressure if they have to drive to fast-food joints and doughnut shops instead of walking or riding their bikes there.
The national study is called "Measuring the Health Effects of Sprawl," and in this case sprawl describes the spread-out suburbs and what supposedly happens to your waistline if you live in them.
This is really bad news for those of you in Geauga County, Ohio, a sprawling area just outside Cleveland. Folks there may have won the LeBron James lottery, but they also live in the most sprawling county in the United States. That means they are much more likely to sprawl out on the couch or hop in their car to go to the store — and get unpleasantly plump — than those who live in ultra-compact New York City.
Utah's suburban-sprawled-out counties fare better than Ohio's, but we can still expect to weigh at least five pounds per person more than they do in the Big Apple. (Although that might be more to do with the proliferation of Iceberg shake shops and our propensity for Arctic Circle fry sauce, which wasn't covered in the study.)
The moral of this study isn't to encourage everyone to move to Manhattan. (The island might struggle to stay afloat if too many portly people from sprawling suburbs move there.)
It simply means we have been misplacing the blame for our bulging bellies.
So stop feeling guilty. We're not responsible for being overweight. And our parents — despite the bad habits and genetics they've instilled in us — are not culpable, either.
It's the fault of county planners and community developers.
Or, it may be that you are just "big boned."
Jody Genessy's weight-loss column appears the first Friday of the month.