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Georges Laraque on obesity (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
Georges Laraque on obesity (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

DRAWN OFF TOPIC

Former NHLer Georges Laraque on obesity Add to ...

Georges Laraque spent 13 seasons in the National Hockey League with Edmonton, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and Montreal as the fiercest of the league’s enforcers despite a gentle off-ice personality as a vegan, animal-rights activist and tireless charity worker. His autobiography, Georges Laraque: The Story of the NHL’s Unlikeliest Tough Guy , was published in November.

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Other than the rare genetic predisposition, why do people get fat?

How they were raised has a lot to do with it. Parents are not encouraging their kids to be active. They spend all day in front of the TV. They play video games. Remember back in the day when kids played outside? Now kids are sitting all day long. Combine that with the fact that kids don’t eat healthy. Those habits, when you give them to your kid at such a young age, when he grows up, he maintains.

That is the coming generation. The middle-aged generation was raised in predigital times, and yet obesity is rampant. How would you explain this?

Everybody is in a hurry in society. Fast food. It’s fast, it’s easy.

The food is more dangerous now than it was 10 or 20 years ago in terms of all the chemicals, all the preservatives injected into it.

Obesity has been called an epidemic. Do you agree? Does this bother you?

Yes, it is. It bothers me because people are sick and need help and heath care. We spend so much money on pills to make them feel better. All they have to do is eat healthy. It’s so much cheaper.

You have faced racial discrimination throughout your life. Overweight people get criticized and demeaned by society. Some see this as a form of discrimination. Do you?

Obesity is becoming so big a problem, it’s close to becoming like a race problem. If you hire someone for a job, you’ve got to be careful. You say, “No, I can’t because you are obese,” they will sue you and you’ll lose. They play the victim factor. When you are obese, it is a decision – not every time because I know there are exceptions, genetics, thyroid problem – to be unhealthy, and they don’t have to be that way.

Sometimes, we witness a backlash: obese people’s organizations fighting societal bullying and stigmatization, saying, in effect, “We’re fine as we are, leave us alone.” Do you see that as enabling and demotivational of change for the obese?

It’s not okay. People who are obese have families, they have kids, people who care for them. They could have a heart attack any day. They bring negative energy because they are not happy. So it’s not that we are laughing at them. They have a problem, and they need help.

If I had influence, all those [fast food]ads on television, I would abolish them. They are promoting crap. All that publicity drives people to go eat crap. We want a healthy society.

How much should society intervene? It’s not against the law to serve hamburgers, pizza or fried chicken. Should the state legislate that you can’t have fries, that you must have salad?

I’m not saying force people or shut down fast food. That will never happen. The role of government is to make sure society is healthy. You have to shut down the publicity that is used to encourage people to live unhealthy. They are driving people to the hospital. If we ban ads for fast foods, it sends a message. It won’t stop people from eating fast foods, but it will encourage them not to.

A lot of people, when they have a gun against the temple, that’s when they respond. Now, it’s too easy. You get sick, go to the hospital, they give you a couple of pills, and it’s okay. We are so backward against some other countries that have initiative. If you bring anything forward here, it would bring an uproar and a lawsuit and it would take forever and then it would be dropped.

Look at the States. If I live there, I don’t want to help anyone. Every time you help, you do an act and you get sued. Why don’t you abolish that? It starts there. It’s not helping at all.

You are famously a vegan: a huge, muscular athlete fuelled by a vegan diet. Can a vegan ever get fat?

Even me. At one time, I was over 300 pounds after I retired. I let myself go.

You can still eat junk that has no animal products in it. You can be overweight if you want to. Fries fried with olive oil have no animal products. They can be really fattening, Lots of veggie burgers with ketchup, tonnes of pasta, tonnes of bread, it’s going to be fattening.

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