Fostering Fat

The NY Times has an article, Fixing a World That Fosters Fat:

WHY are Americans getting fatter and fatter? The simple explanation is that we eat too much junk food and spend too much time in front of screens — be they television, phone or computer — to burn off all those empty calories.

One handy prescription for healthier lives is behavior modification. If people only ate more fresh produce. (Thank you, Michael Pollan.) If only children exercised more. (Ditto, Michelle Obama.)

Unfortunately, behavior changes won’t work on their own without seismic societal shifts, health experts say, because eating too much and exercising too little are merely symptoms of a much larger malady. The real problem is a landscape littered with inexpensive fast-food meals; saturation advertising for fatty, sugary products; inner cities that lack supermarkets; and unhealthy, high-stress workplaces.

In other words: it’s the environment, stupid.

The main idea, as stated by Dr. Dee Edington, “If you change the culture and the environment first, then you can go back into a healthy environment and, when you get change, it sticks.”

A little anthropology would be nice here, along with the economic prescriptions such as food pricing, advertising and availability. Inequality makes fast food, which is cheap, quite appealing to people without a lot of cash. Rich people also have dedicated spaces for exercise and the like, since our environment does little to make us move. Food also means something – simply declaring it “unhealthy” and labeling the number of calories are appeals directed at an audience assumed to be rational: cost/benefit analysis should win out, right?

For those who want a little anthropology, you can go to the Food, Obesity and Eating page, which rounded up a lot of the writing I did on this early on. For some relevant pieces, go directly to:

Culture and Inequality in the Obesity Debate

Successful Weight Loss

Calories, Not Diets

Comfort Food and Social Stress

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