The Fattening of America, by Eric A. Finkelstein and Laurie Zuckerman, is a fascinating new book proffering an economic explanation as to why more and more Americans are obese – I think. I haven’t read it but that didn’t stop me from perusing the news stories coming out on Dr. Finkelstein’s analysis of obesity and its relationship to our modern economy.
If I may sum up his theses on why we’re getting fatter:
1. The evolution of our diet, as manifested by what foodstuffs make a nice profit for those involved in its creation, has made it more costly to buy healthy foods than mass-produced fattening junk food that is flavored with ingredients from the corn and soybeans farmers are getting dough to grow.
2. The evolution of our economy, as manifested by what our employers are looking for, has forced gazillions of Americans to work in sedentary jobs in search of better wages than can be found in active jobs (think lawn maintenance) that don’t pay as well.
3. The evolution of modern health care, as manifested by our ability to keep obesity-induced diseases from prematurely bumping off citizens before their time, serves to reinforce the attitude that obesity isn’t really all that bad for us because our talented doctor will certainly keep us going with new, exciting pills from Big Pharma.
4. It’s just too damn hard to find the time to cook smart meals, avoid fast food and exercise – unless, of course, you pay us to lose a few pounds. Grease our palms (or put us on network television) and we just might interpret this as the afflatus to deflate us.
5. Leisure time activities centered around sitting on our behinds provide us with much more comfort and joy than things such as say, bullfighting, mountain biking or anything else that denies us the divertissement housed within the latest iPod-DVD-Internet-PS3-Gameboy device.
As Dr. Finkelstein summarizes: “A lot of people just aren’t interested in carving out the time it would take to be physically active. Plus, it’s cheap and convenient to consume lots of great-tasting food. I argue that obesity is a side effect of any advanced economy. When you mechanize a society to the degree that no one has to do anything, no one’s going to do anything. Combine that with cheap, prevalent food, and the result is bound to be weight gain.”
I never thought of obesity as anything but a public health disaster, but perhaps I am being too harsh. As long as our economy can afford to pay for the medical care of obesity-related illnesses, maybe we should let folks expand their waistlines and not criticize them.
Of course, there is another way to slim down the population. As sinophiles know, Chairman Mao proved to be a genius at getting people to eat less – the only problem is that this was an unexpected consequence of a ‘separate plan’ – leading to the starvation of over 20 million of his own people. Oops.
Until folks realize that the best way to maintain a healthy weight is to not eat so doggone much and (as annoying as it is) reserve some time each day to do something physical, they have no chance to avoid plumping up – unless our government decides its time for the Amercian version of The Great Leap Forward.