Melvin Martin: Indian Country's expanding waistline
With nowhere else to go since Alaska has become relatively tamed (except for the recent antics of Sarah Palin), the desperate search for ever-widening circles of places to expand at has focused on the American body.

When I was a kid back in the '50s, the only locales where one could go to see a carnival-type of fat woman was at the carnival or circus - these days just go to the food court at the nearest shopping mall, and there you will see a multitude of women (of all ethnic groups) who weigh on average close to 300 pounds. At the same mall, you will also notice that clothing stores that cater to the morbidly obese of both sexes abound in numbers unprecedented.

I replied to a recent comment on weight concerns in the U.S. military that accompanied an article in USA Today, and when I mentioned my weight at the age of 18 (110 pounds) some commentators actually asked if I was female. In 1971, when I was 18 in high school, there was perhaps one noticeably fat person for every 100 students. Go to any high school anywhere in the country today, and as one of my nieces has also told me, there are perhaps 70 excessively fat students out of 100 (which correlates to the 65-70% of American adults who can be medically classified as obese).

Last November, I went to a free buffet for ex-military personnel that is put on every Veteran's Day in the small town where I currently reside (and in the southwestern "heart" of Indian Country). Most of the people there were young adults, many from the nearby reservation, who were way too young to be veterans and too fat to have been anywhere else most of their lives but at the myriad of eating troughs like this buffet.

At the ripe old age of 56, I still have a 36-inch waist (that I've had since I was 22), and I've weighed 180 for the past ten years with the exception of a brief foray into fatness when I got up to 220 in 2002. Anyway, these kids (there had to be about 50 of them) at the buffet had to weigh between 230 and 330 pounds with an average waist measurement of 60 inches. Having worked in the medical field in the '80s and early '90s, I am very well-trained to estimate peoples' weight by just looking at them, and I was astounded that night to say the least.

And these kids chowed down on all the wrong stuff! I had a piece of steak the size of a deck of playing cards with a small amount of mushrooms and caramelized onions, two servings of green beans with slivered almonds, a small dinner salad with lo-cal dressing, a cup of chili, a tiny slice of cheesecake with cherry topping and a cup of black coffee. I observed the kids' food selections, and they all served themselves huge piles of pizza with pepperoni, macaroni and cheese, mountains of mashed potatoes with rivers of thick, brown gravy, french fries, fried onion rings, fried okra, fried mushrooms, fried zucchini, fried chicken, chicken-fried steak, fried fish, plates of mini-cheeseburgers ("slammers"), and extra-large portions of cakes, pies, brownies, cookies and soft-serve ice cream topped with all manner of candy like gummie worms, gummie bears and jelly beans, to list just a few.

At one point I went to the table next to mine to get some steak sauce, and there were four 300-pound Future Farmers of America-types sitting two tables away from mine with enough food on their plates to feed a family of six for at least a week. As I neared their table, the fattest girl there quickly extended her left arm out in a protective action to encircle her food with an over-sized, pink, freckled paw - and kind of growled at me. Whoa! Hold on there, partner, I'm not after that three-inch thick slab of steak you've got there!

I, myself, am no total stranger to a "little" weight gain; in 2002 while living in New York state I went from 175 to 220 in about six months. I had rapidly developed what many in Indian Country refer to as "Dunlap," a condition whereby my gut had done lapped way over my belt-line.

There is a weird sort of logic operative throughout Indian Country that posits that guys with a visible amount of belly fat are somehow "nicer, kinder and more jovial" than their slimmer brethren - something akin to the Jolly Fat Man mythology popular in American culture. Hmmm...maybe that's why most "skin" women found me rather undesirable when I weighed less than 170 (josh!).

But in all seriousness, obesity in Indian Country is at epidemic proportions with all of the attendant repercussions and ramifications thereof. Having a lot of abdominal fat (noticeable flab in one's mid-section) has been confirmed years ago as a major precursor to the development of that brutal killer of Indian people everywhere, diabetes.

It is certainly not my intent here to make anyone feel bad about being overweight, it's just that I am deeply concerned about critical health care issues that affect not only Indian Country, but the entire nation as well.

Melvin Martin is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota. He can be contacted at

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