By Brian Quebbemann, M.D. and Justin Braverman, M.D.
The N.E.W. Program
The world may be getting smaller, but it’s people are getting bigger . . . and bigger . . . and bigger.
Back in 1963, when the boats that carry customers through Disneyland’s “It’s a Small World” ride were first designed, an adult’s height was roughly the same as today, but the average adult weighed far less than 200 pounds. Not anymore. Today, the boats at Disneyland’s famous ride frequently “bottom out”, overloaded with today’s overweight passengers.
The “Small World” ride has been handicapped by a “Big Rider” problem. Instead of carrying mainly healthy-weight patrons, the ride must now accommodate adults who often weigh much more than 200 pounds. Increasingly, over-weighted boats get to certain points in the ride and become stuck on the bottom of the pool. In an attempt to avoid this problem, Disneyland employees have been trained to leave empty seats on many boats to compensate for hefty patrons, but this routinely upsets the hundreds of other paying customers waiting in line. When a boat does bottom out, the long line of boats backs up behind it, their passengers becoming upset while listening to the ride’s theme song over and over. The ride monitors must then find the stuck boat and attempt to tactfully help a heavy rider, or two, to an exit at one of the emergency platforms. To make things even more uncomfortable, some of the embarrassed, overweight riders do not deal with this situation graciously.
As a result of this growing inconvenience, Disney was forced to close down the “It’s a Small World” ride for an entire year in order to complete a massive renovation in which the boats will be redesigned, and the flume deepened, to accommodate their patron’s additional poundage. Unfortunately, this problem is not just isolated to Mickey Mouse’s home town.
Although America is well known to have an obesity epidemic, the problem is not confined to American shores. Even Mediterranean countries, touted for their heart-healthy diets, are being faced with expanding waistlines. In Italy, 42 percent of adults are overweight and 9 percent are obese, according to the World Health Organization. In France, 41 percent of adults are overweight and 11 percent are obese.
Though some experts blame America’s obesity problem on soft drinks or the use of high-fructose corn syrup as a sweetener, the problem goes much deeper. We live in a culture that encourages lifestyle patterns that include frequent overeating and minimal physical activity. Unfortunately, if obesity trends continue, researchers at Johns Hopkins University estimate that 75 percent of American adults will be overweight or obese in just eight years and 41 percent will in fact be obese.
Because obesity has been linked to at least 53 diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer, and because the costs of obesity on society have become so huge, governments are now being forced to take action. In countries like Mexico, Brazil and China, the health costs of excess weight are rapidly becoming a big part of their budget. As a result, governments from Scotland to China are already debating how to tackle this issue. Planned maneuvers include taxing sodas and sugary drinks, revamping agricultural subsidies to make fruits and vegetables cheaper, banning junk-food ads on children’s television, and demanding equal advertising time for healthy food.
However, no matter what government initiatives are applied, the first steps to rectify this epidemic need to be made on an individual level. People must make positive changes in their lifestyle, especially eating habits, not just to lose their excess weight, but to avoid becoming overweight in the first place. It’s a sad day in our society, when instead of being able to successfully address the underlying issue of obesity, we are forced to tear down a famous ride and rebuild it in order to accommodate our unhealthy way of life.