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The Fat Nag brings a tale for 2021, and hope for 2022

Mayor Lightfoot introduced an ordinance to the City Council that would ban Chicago restaurants from automatically offering pop or other sugared drinks to kids.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot recently introduced an ordinance aimed at tackling childhood obesity.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot recently introduced an ordinance aimed at tackling childhood obesity.
Fran Spielman / Sun-Times

As the self-appointed Fat Nag, my mission is to remind, cajole and plead that we all get the fat out.

On Christmas Day, the Nag got word that a family member had been hospitalized with COVID-19. I won’t share her name to protect her privacy, but I wasn’t surprised. She is African American, in her early 50s, a lifelong smoker and overweight.

The Nag knows that for people like her, that’s a fearful prognosis in these times. COVID-19 hits Black folks hardest, and we are least prepared.

People of color, particularly African Americans, came into the pandemic burdened with a legacy of poor health outcomes.

About 42% of the nation’s population was obese in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. African Americans suffer most.

“Non-Hispanic Black adults (49.6 percent) had the highest age-adjusted prevalence of obesity, followed by Hispanic adults (44.8 percent), non-Hispanic White adults (42.2 percent) and non-Hispanic Asian adults (17.4 percent),” the CDC reports.

“Having obesity increases the risk of severe illness from COVID. And “people who are overweight may also be at increased risk,” the agency stated.

From April 1 to Dec. 31, 2020, 78% of 71,491 U.S. adults hospitalized with COVID-19 were overweight or obese, according to a CDC report published last March. Those patients were more likely to be put on a ventilator.

We don’t want to talk about it, but carrying too much girth in this brutal pandemic has mortal consequences.

African Americans are at ground zero. We bear a legacy of diseases and maladies that connect to being overweight. The condition is a major contributing factor to heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, cancer and more.

We always land at the razor-sharp end of the worst health outcomes. Today, it’s COVID. Tomorrow, it may be another deadly affliction.

And Black folks are more likely to shun life-saving vaccines. Yes, we are up against pervasive disparities in the health care system and fighting structural racism. But we also make choices. Those choices are killing us.

But as 2022 dawns, the Fat Nag is reaching for hope.

She spies a sliver of light that could help drag us out of the tunnel. We can start by tackling childhood obesity.

Last month, Mayor Lori Lightfoot proposed an innovative idea that could keep children away from sugary, fat-inducing drinks.

Lightfoot introduced an ordinance to the Chicago City Council that, if approved, would ban Chicago restaurants from automatically offering pop or other sugared drinks to kids.

While parents could still order the sweet stuff for their children, restaurants would have to offer “default” beverages, reports Fran Spielman of the Sun-Times. Those options would be:

Plain, sparkling or flavored water with no added natural or artificial sweeteners; nonfat or 1% dairy milk; and 100% fruit or vegetable juice or juice combined with water with no added sweeteners; and nondairy milk alternatives.

The ordinance includes size limitations.

Every beverage listed or displayed on a restaurant menu or in-store advertisement for children’s meals would have to be one of those “default” beverages, according to the ordinance.

Kids, Lightfoot told reporters, are “reflexively being given really high-caloric, very high sugary drinks” and “Slurpee-type” drinks.

She added: “This is saying, ‘When you’re serving a child, serve them something that’s healthy,’ ” Lightfoot said. “Give ’em that as the first option. Pure and simple.”

Give them a chance to live.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.