Saturday, 05 February, 2005
Why are we fat? Part 2.
Getting back to the Fat America topic that I started a while back, and assuming we agree that there are more fat people now than in the past...
My previous posts on this topic (See January 22, 2002, August 26, 2002, and June 21, 2003 for examples) have been pretty narrow minded, falling far on the side of "Get off your fat ass and stop shoving Big Macs in your pie hole." Although I still firmly believe that in most cases ultimate responsibility for one's health (at least as far as being overweight is concerned) lies squarely on the shoulders of the individual, I've come to accept that the issue is a little more complicated than that. So, I thought a good way to start this discussion would be to list what I consider the most important factors that contribute to our collective corpulence. In no particular order, those are:
- All types of food are more widely available and less expensive now than in the past.
- Americans have more sedentary jobs than before.
- Being overweight does not carry the same stigma that it carried in the past.
- Hurried lifestyles encourage "grab it and go" eating.
- Better medical care reduces the negative effects of being overweight.
- We are inundated with advertisements for rich, tasty, ready-to-eat foods.
- Increased standard of living allows us to eat out more often, and consume more discretionary foods.
- Passive entertainment such as television and computer games results in less physical activity.
- More households with two wage earners results in less overall supervision of children's diets and after school activities.
In my opinion, the cause of our rising tide of obesity is a combination of those factors. There are two other possible causes that I wanted to mention but that I discount.
- I have seen several theories about hormone or other chemical imbalances that block the "I'm full" signal or stimulate the "I'm hungry" signal. I don't discount the possibility of hormone imbalances, but the research to date is anecdotal at best. It shows that people with certain imbalances are, on average, heavier than others. However, no study of a sufficiently large sample has shown a causal link, and it'd be difficult if not impossible to prove that the number of people with an imbalance today is different than in the past.
- Finally, there's the "unknown environmental factor" theory which, being unknown, can't really be discussed rationally. This is a cop-out for lazy pseudo intellectuals. It's all well and good to postulate some environmental factor, but if you want to be taken seriously you have to first rule out all the other possibilities, and then put forth evidence that the unknown factor really exists.
I want to warn you up front that it might be a while between posts on this topic. This is research that I fit into my schedule as time permits, and must be put aside when I have more pressing (i.e. paying) projects.