Monday, July 20, 2009

Why Are Americans Fat?

"Though weight-loss books will doubtless always be more popular, what might be called weight-gain books, which attempt to account for our corpulence, are an expanding genre," writes Elizabeth Kolbert in a recent New Yorker. She then expounds upon our increasing waistlines by quoting from some of the more provacative books on the topic.

According to Kolbert, men and women are now on average of 17 and 19 pounds heavier, respectively, than they were in the late seventies. And there is no shortage of explanations to tell us why. Evolutionary theorists explain that, due to the unpredictability of food supplies during primitive times, the body was designed to hoarde calories during times when food was accessible. While, for most Americans, food is as near as the closest vending machine, our bodies are still operating under a mentality of scarcity. Meanwhhile, economists postulate that the cheap cost of calories -- in the familiar forms of soda, cookies, and triple-burgers -- encourages people to consume more.

Citing from “The End of Overeating” by David A. Kessler, Kolbert talks about food as entertainment and the fact that by rewarding ourselves with Cheetoes and Cinnabons we reinforce the ongoing need for these treats, also known as “conditioned hypereating." Finally, the elasticity of the human appetite is the subject of Brian Wansink’s “Mindless Eating” tome. Kolbert recounts several experiments where Wansink was able to demonstrate that the amount of food we eat is related to portion size vs. internal cues about hunger.

Lest we feel alone, by the end of the article we discover that in Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Greece, Malta, and Slovakia, the proportion of overweight adults is actually higher than in the U.S. Whatever the root cause, obesity is definitely an epidemic that's spreading.


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