Last week I was hanging out with a group of medical colleagues at a diabetes conference sponsored by JDRF. With all the talk about artificial pancreas technology, our discussion turned to the hypothetical question: What will you do career-wise when diabetes, type-1 at least, is finally cured? Responses ranged from “go to work for big pharma” to “train for a triathlon” to “spend more time annoying my kids”. My reply was a bit more off the beaten path.
I want to become a Laziness Cop.
OK, according to the government census office, there is no such occupation. But maybe there should be.
I recently read a report addressing the causes of widespread weight gain and obesity, put together by the Deparment of Exercise Science at the University of South Carolina. They explained how changes in food and caloric intake have less to do with the problem than reductions in energy expenditure. They showed that, over the past 50 years, there has been a drop in occupational energy expenditure (calories burned in work-related activities both in and out of the home) of about 150 calories per day. Doing the math, that equates to about three pounds of weight gain per month for those who do not make a compensatory decrease in caloric intake.
There are several reasons for the decreased energy expenditure. Many farming and manufacturing jobs have been replaced by white collar sit-at-a-desk-type occupations. Labor-saving devices have cut down on the amount of physical energy required to perform tasks at work and at home. And the widespread prevalence and use of automobiles has limited the amount of walking we do to and from work and school. Dr. Jerry Morris, an epidemiologist from the United Kingdom put it best when he said, “We in the West are the first generation in human history in which the mass of the population has to deliberately exercise in order to stay healthy.”
Interestingly, these trends are not confined to the U.S. and other western industrialized nations. Similar changes are seen around the globe. The World Health Organization estimates that more than five million deaths annually are attributable to health conditions developed as a result of physical inactivity: stroke, heart disease, falls and hip fractures, and of course, diabetes.
In Sao Paulo, Brazil, a program called Agita (Spanish for “to move”) was started in 1996. The Agita program uses a combination of public policies, private initiatives and social outreach to incentivize people to perform moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, five or more days per week. The results have been astounding. In a state of more than 40 million people, the number of “active” people has increased by nearly 50%, and the number of “very active” people has nearly tripled. At the same time, the number of “completely inactive” and “rarely active” people has been cut in half.
So I figured, if they can do it in Brazil, why not here? That’s when I came up with the Laziness Cop idea. As a Laziness Cop, I would be empowered by the government to go out into the public domain and issue fines for anything that discourages physical activity. I could also charge people who engage in egregious displays of laziness. For example, here are some of the “offenses” that I envision being ticket-worthy:
- Standing, instead of walking, on moving walkways and escalators (folks, it’s not meant to be a ride!)
- Taking an elevator or escalator instead of the stairs for a trip of three flights or less
- Making the stairs difficult to find or access in any multi-story building
- Failing to properly maintain a staircase in any multi-story building (heck… let’s fancy them up with some artwork and inspiring messages!)
- Waiting for a closer parking spot when there are open spots a reasonable distance away
- Failing to install sidewalks within a mile of schools, parks, libraries and other public facilities
- Driving instead of walking to destinations that are less than ½ mile from home (weather permitting)
- Use of a “Segue” for any reason whatsoever (these are the motorized 2-wheel carts that save people from the arduous task of walking short distances)
- Building roads without reasonable shoulders or lanes for cyclists
- Use of power tools/equipment for jobs that can be completed easily with hand tools/equipment (see the case of Broom vs. Blower)
If there are any more you can think of, please comment on our Facebook Page! I’ll be sure to add them to the job description. Of course, a Laziness Cop would also need an appropriate costume… I mean uniform. I’m thinking about a Superman-style outfit, but with running shoes, sports goggles and a big sloth with a slash through it on the chest. Something that would truly inspire fear in the hearts of the lazy.
Oooooohhh… that sounds so cool. Just one more reason to work towards a speedy cure for diabetes.