Obesity: Society Really is to Blame

January 2nd, 2012 at 11:12 am David Frum | 110 Comments |

| Print

In my column for CNN, I discuss the root causes of America’s obesity epidemic:

Obesity has become the country’s leading public health problem. Yet as we talk and talk about the issue, the country only becomes fatter and fatter.

The problem for the country echoes the problem for individuals: Willpower is not enough. “(It’s a) basic instinct, even stronger than the sexual instinct, to store calories to survive the next period of starvation. And we live in an environment where there’s food every half mile. It’s tasty, cheap, convenient, and you can eat it with one hand.”

Thus says Martijn Katan of the Institute of Health Sciences at VU University in Amsterdam, author of one of the many studies on the limits of dieting, quoted in U.S. News & World Report.

If you as an individual want to change your weight, you must change your whole life. Likewise, to reduce obesity in modern society, we will have to alter the way society is organized.

Weight gain is driven by two trends: increases in calories consumed and decrease in calories expended. Modern America induces both.

For example: The after-inflation cost of sugary soda has declined by an estimated 48% over the past 20 years. Correspondingly, consumption of sugary soda has soared: Sugary soda is now thesingle most important source of calories in the American diet.

For example again: The number of Americans who work at physically taxing jobs continues its steady decline. Even those jobs that demand physical labor — manufacturing, for example — are much less grueling than they used to be, as electrically powered machines do the lifting and shifting that used to consume human energy.

While Americans expend fewer calories at work, they spend more time in cars — almost twice as much as in the 1970s. They spend26 hours per week consuming TV or online entertainment. Americans could theoretically compensate for more sedentary lifestyles by stepping up their recreational exercise — but only about 20% of Americans bother. Some 80% never do — including presumably all those failed dieters.

Want to change this? It’s no small project. It would involve the redesign of cities, the relocation of schools, the reinvention of our modes of eating and amusement.

Click here to read the full column.

Recent Posts by David Frum



110 Comments so far ↓

  • nhthinker

    Let’s deal with the facts… David Frum was obese for decades.
    It was not a government program that caused Frum to no longer be obese.
    It was likely his wife that explained to him that his weight was likely to reduce the years he would have with his children- Or he decided did not want to force his son to have the stigma of having a fat nonathletic father. Frum likely was not just doing it for himself- he was doing it for his family.

    Studies have demonstrated that children in single-parent families are more likely to be overweight or obese than children in two-parent families and that the rise in women working outside the home coincides with the rise in childhood weight problems.[84],[85] Several potential mechanisms have been proposed to explain this phenomenon including the following:

    Constraints on parent’s time potentially contribute to children’s weight problems, as working parents probably rely more heavily than non-working parents on prepared, processed, and fast foods, which generally have high calorie, high fat, and low nutritional content.
    Children left unsupervised after school may make poor nutritional choices and engage in more sedentary activities.
    Child care providers may not offer as many opportunities for physical activity and may offer less nutritious food alternatives.
    Unsupervised children may spend a great deal of time indoors, perhaps due to safety concerns, watching TV or playing video games rather than engaging in more active outdoor pursuits.[86]

    In short, the recent social and economic changes in American society have encouraged the consumption of excess energy and have had a detrimental effect on energy expenditure among youth. These changes have impacted the foods available in the homes, the degree of influence parents have when children make food selections and has led to increases in sedentary behaviors among youth.
    ——-

    Another factor is that health insurance that has the same premiums for obese people and normal weight people and created a moral hazard.

    ——-

    Back to Frum, obviously he was smart enough to have recognized his weight was unhealthy decades ago. He understood decades ago that fewer calories and more exercise would have made him healthier. What he lacked was the willpower and the discipline to do something about it-

    What American society has lost is the emphasis in instilling willpower and discipline in its citizens. Increased obesity is just a symptom of the decay.

    Coca Cola has been available for a century. It was the lack of discipline, from financial to dietary that allowed Coke to become a factor in obesity as opposed to an occasional refreshing treat. It was people doing what was convenient instead of doing what they know is good for them.

    • dante

      It also costs 1/2 as much as it did 20 years ago, and now primarily contains HFCS, which has been shown to cause greater obesity in lab rats than an equal amount of sugar.

      • LauraNo

        Fake sugar is every bit as bad for us as any other sugar and in many ways it’s much worse but we don’t hear about it’s bad effects, just as we never hear how truly unhealthy even a few drinks (alcohol) a week is for us. I wonder why this is?

    • Traveler

      Good points all.

    • nhthinker

      http://aspe.hhs.gov/health/reports/child_obesity/
      was the report I was quoting for above regarding family influence… sorry for the omission.

    • Primrose

      Children don’t play inside because of stay at home moms but the perceptions of child predators, and general safety. If anything it is more supervision. The children of stay at home moms are not allowed to roam the neighborhood as we used to, any more than those without stay at home moms.

      Nor was the state of cuisine in America such that we can say what stay-at-home moms served more nutritious food. My mother-in-law was a stay-at-home mom and a casserole cook. It is the legacy of her eating habits that made my husband overweight, and which I have been battling our entire marriage (my own weight being harmed in the process).

      This time period also coincides with the use of sunscreen, (and vitamin D absorption) and all the factors that Mr. Frum suggested.

      NHThinker is always trying to find ways to say that women have to be stay-at-home moms and I think this is a particularly pernicious one. Not everyone should be a stay-at-home mom. As with any job, the ability to be home with your kids cannot be done by everyone. That doesn’t mean one isn’t a good parent, anymore than most fathers’ are bad parents because they work.

      And of course many more can’t be stay-at-home moms, particularly for older school age children. It makes no sense for most households to sacrifice the earning potential of an adult when they will spend 2/3 their working day not taking care of those children.

      • Levedi

        +1 This.

        The SAHMs of my own age that I know are utterly paranoid about letting their kids play outside. They have fenced yards with locked gates and still won’t let the kids outside unless mom can go with them. My mom used to let us play street hockey and ride bikes to the pond and back. Before I was homeschooled I walked 2 miles to school and back without her – every other kid in our suburban neighborhood was going the same way, so the moms assumed it was safe. We got more exercise because we were allowed to/required to by our parents.

        Also, the idea that earlier generations or more rural/authentically American generations ate more nutritional meals is just not true. I was homeschooled by my stay at home mom in a conservative Christian home. My parents both come from rural, farming folk. Their diet is terrible. They grow their own vegetables, but they boil them to death and cover them in fat so most of the nutrition is lost. Berries get turned into jam full of sugar, and high starch products (bread and potatoes) along with cheap meat makes up most of their diet. Cheap cheese is also abundant. Bacon fat was my grandfather’s favorite food item; he had twelve jars of it saved up for use when he died.

        Plus, I (like my parents) was raised on the “clean your plate, children are starving in Africa” model, so I find it very hard to walk away from food, even when I know it would be better in the trash than on my rear. Wasting food was a sin to my parents and theirs.

        Combine that with a job that keeps me at a desk all day and seated at my home desk most evenings (I’m a professor and writer) and you have a recipe for obesity.

        I’m not saying it’s all everyone else’s fault when I over eat, but I’ve been tracking calories for years. NHThinker – have you ever tried to eat fewer than 1200 calories a day? That’s the current recommendation for a woman my age and size. However, that’s also the point the body starts reacting as if you’re starving because the amount of food going through the system is too low. It’s a difficult cycle to balance.

        • nhthinker

          “NHThinker – have you ever tried to eat fewer than 1200 calories a day?”
          Not lately. Although I have fasted on much less than that for several days in a row, several times in my life.
          In my personal case, I was always a relatively athletic child: My parents limited the amount of TV I could watch and there were plenty of kids in the neighborhood. I spent HS and college as a gymnast with strenuous exercise at least 10-20 hours a week. Good muscle and good posture burns calories even without much exercise. Those that build muscle as children have an easier time of it.

          I do not think I ever suggested that women should be stay at home moms. I certainly did suggest that society has decayed as more families are choosing to raise child without two parents focused on each other and on the children.

          Appropriate caloric intake is more related to the weight of your muscle, not your total weight: I am sure there are plenty of women with your weight that consume more than 1200 calories and remain fit. No matter what ones age, almost everyone can develop more muscle if they set their mind to it.

          Society has developed a significant aversion to sweat. Most people no longer view profuse sweating as a necessary almost daily activity.

        • Primrose

          http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/01/magazine/tara-parker-pope-fat-trap.html?_r=1&hpw

          The New York Times article explains why it isn’t as easy as you say or one size fits all.

        • Primrose

          Also, you really need to understand the difference between then and now. For a single mother to let her kids loose to play would be unsafe. Our mother’s did because a) it was legal and b)everyone else was out and about.

          It is not as legal. About a year ago, a mother was tired of the bickering of her tween and teenage daughters. She said she would throw them out of the car and if they didn’t stop. They didn’t and she told them to get out (only about a mile from their house). Then the mother circled back around but by that time the youngest had left.

          The two had had a fight and the younger one peeled away (with some blame on the older) and then she got lost and panicked and was found crying by some adult who took her to get ice cream and then the police.

          The police charged the mother with child endangerment. Now in my childhood a mile away from home wasn’t a big deal. Now, two children, together, with the mother close by in the car, gets you arrested and I think her children were taken away. It’s a different world and nearly every mother knows it.

      • Geprodis

        This made me think of my Aunt’s cooking. She makes this insane Oreo cookie desert (multiple sticks of butter) that is the richest food I have every tasted. One bite felt like I had just consumed 900 calories and 500% of my daily saturated fat.

    • djmeph

      There is an important factor in all of this that everyone seems to want to ignore, and that is the fact that food has been engineered to basically already be partly digested before it even enters your mouth. Processed foods are nothing new, and at one time were considered to be a luxury. (Coincidentally, being obese was also considered a luxury) But we know now through science and research that these broken down versions of food, white rice, white flour, HFCS, etc, as well as the chemicals they use to preserve food, are causing all kinds of complications. These foods need to be regulated even more than raw foods to prevent obesity, because they take less energy to digest, and cause your body to absorb calories and store fat easier. The simple fact that the junk you see in the aisles at your local grocer, (as opposed to the whole foods and produce you see around the outside of those aisles) are designed to make you fatter, quicker. They’re even known to take important nutrients out of pre-cooked vegetables.

      Because of the high content of processed foods in the typical, American diet, people do have to have more willpower to stay in good health than they would by eating and cooking with raw foods. But even then, processed foods aren’t lending to a generally healthy lifestyle, even for those with willpower. Studies have shown that processed foods are contributing to increase in food allergies, (which scientifically, makes a lot of sense) as well as diseases like Type II diabetes. The chemicals that are used as pesticides, preservatives, flavor additives/enhancers, etc, have been linked to even more diseases, including cancer. Even if we did have the willpower to control our calorie intake while eating processed foods, we may look healthy on the outside, but we’re wreaking havok on our bodies through all the chemicals and poisons that are being processed.

      I think we may be on the verge of a food revolution that completely changes the way we look at food. More and more, people are buying organic produce, often grown locally by urban farmers. You are also starting to see more independent local grocers and restaurants, who are not being bought off by the major food cartels, preparing food and meals for people who live a more fast-paced life, so they can still receive the benefits of healthy, unprocessed food, while maintaining their busy lifestyle.

      The key to moving forward on this issue is education. I don’t care if it’s a two-parent family, with a stay-at-home mom, or a single parent working three jobs and struggling to get by. Parents will always be able to find the information they need to help raise their kids. This starts by educating children about the realities of our food culture, but it also means we must accept the truth in mainstream society as well. Our politicians are being bought off by big food cartels, so naturally they’re going to target our children and profit from our unhealthy, gluttonous, pleasure-based food culture, and will do anything they can to promote legislature to support the American lifestyle. (ie. Pizza is a vegetable) If government intervention can help make us unhealthy, it can certainly help to getting us all back on track to living a more healthy lifestyle as well.

      • paul_gs

        We are already educated about which foods to eat and not eat. More will not help.

        • djmeph

          Ignorance is bliss. Just sit back and let the food cartels destroy our way of life with political donations and asinine legislature that classifies pizza as a vegetable.

          There is never such thing as “too much education” especially when we’re not even in the top 20 list of best educated countries in the world. But I agree with you that the education needs to be backed up with direct action, if that’s what you’re implying.

        • paul_gs

          Everyone, and I mean everyone, already knows that:
          1) fresh vegetables and fruits are good for you
          2) exercise is good for you
          3) lots of Coke is not good for you
          4) lots of fast foods is not good for you

          End of story. No more education needed. All the tools to eat well (and affordably) and exercise already exist.

    • Houndentenor

      Anyone who has been on an elementary school campus in the last decade will not be surprised why there is childhood obesity. Recess/free play time is virtually non-existent. There is some exercise but it’s just one period in the day. and then there’s the food. Gone are the vegetables and other healthy foods I remember from grade school. French fries and pizza are the norm. Of course kids prefer junk food over healthy food, but we don’t let children play in traffic and we don’t let them make all their own food choices, or at least we shouldn’t. They eat crap and don’t get enough exercise. And then they get home. They don’t have hours of play time in the neighborhood. All activities are monitored and planned. Micromanaged might be a better word than planned. The result of all this is what anyone should have expected. The way to fix it is equally obvious. More play time. More physical activity. More free time to play outdoors (weather permitting). And of course healthier food. Michelle Obama got slammed by the right for advocating for better nutrition. She was right. Her critics were just playing politics with what should not be a political issue.

      • anniemargret

        And because we are now a computer-obsessed society as well, kids are not going to do physical games as much as they love digital games.

        The glory part of my childhood into high school was getting a bike after school and just riding….everywhere. But those that point out the dangers for kids today aren’t kidding. And that’s the saddest part of all.

        Childhood is gone, folks. Little girls now dress in black and leopard by the time they are two. Then they are wearing provocative outfits by the time they are in 6th grade…

        Kids are not allowed to be kids anymore. They shouldn’t be worrying about their diets nor whether or not they are pretty enough.

        Get the schools to reverse the garbage they give them, get the parents to be better educated and give them nutritious lunches and help them play outside during school hours. Should be mandatory. Instead they are corralled into little league sports way too young, or forced into other recreational activities…no more creative playtime for kids…

        But there are predators out there, watch them carefully.

  • PracticalGirl

    Want to change this? It’s no small project. It would involve the redesign of cities, the relocation of schools, the reinvention of our modes of eating and amusement.

    Yes, an entire paradigm shift is in order. And that’s no small task, especially since half the country is fat (and in denial) and the other half (ok there’s overlap) is led by a political party that thought it in good taste to mock our First Lady when she chose obesity as her project, intimating that those seeking to implement changes were also seeking to erode our rights.

  • valkayec

    Thus, we see the growing movement promoted by Children & Nature Network to get families, communities and children back outside, into nature, and into remaking communities to become more family activity oriented.

    http://www.childrenandnature.org/blog/

  • anniemargret

    Absolutely…..anyone who thinks it is a simple matter of willpower is ignoring a whole host of issues.

    Besides being a car-dependent society, we are living a lifestyle that is fast-paced, where parents are up from dawn to dusk working outside the home then having to pick up kids after school recreational activities, sports, etc…to go home and then do a home-cooked meal?

    Think this type of lifestyle doesn’t impact the way we think, feel, do?

    We have made it very easy to get ‘fast-food.’ That why Americans buy it…it’s FAST! They are living fast paced lives, so it is easier to get it fast, then go home and buy fresh and do a meal, requiring more time and more money.

    Anyone ck out the cost of fresh lately? That’s another factor. When I was a kid growing up in an Italian-American house, my mother used to buy fresh fish, fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, fresh poultry and meat. It was *affordable*.

    Cereals are $6 a box. Milk is expensive, bread is expensive.

    The average family is inundated with rising costs and stagnant salaries.

    One other thing that DF forgot to add. The rising and deplorable emphasis on beauty in this country. Not health, beauty, especially for young women. Eating disorders are on the rise. No one should be surprised when we have emaciated looking ‘models’ emphasizing ‘thinner is better’ at all costs. Women from birth to old age are bombarded with images of ‘fixing their bodies’ at all costs, and as a result most young girls by the time they are in their teens are so worried about their bodies and striving to reach some unreachable goal of beauty, end up not being healthy, but *obsessed.*

    This is a sick, sick society. And if ‘diets’ were the answer, it would have been the answer!

    Obesity and anorexia and bulemia are symptoms of a much larger problem, involving all the reasons DF listed above and including what I mention here as well.

    • Geprodis

      “One other thing that DF forgot to add. The rising and deplorable emphasis on beauty in this country. Not health, beauty, especially for young women.”

      I don’t see how you combat this. There have been studies done where children prefer beautiful strangers to their own parents. This isn’t an American phenomenon, it’s global.

    • paul_gs

      Fresh, healthy and nutritious foods are cheaper now then decades ago. ALL food is cheaper but individuals en masse have decided to make poorer eating choices.

      • Primrose

        Based on what research?

      • anniemargret

        Wrong, Paul. Recently someone did a month buying ‘fresh’ food and it was very expensive to do. Sadly it costs a lot for the average family, and again…. it takes TIME to cook fresh, Paul.

        I am not saying it can’t be done,or that it shouldn’t be done, but gone are the days where Mom and Dad can get dinner on the table by 6PM, or can even afford it. It is a societal problem as well as self-discipline.

        It is a multi-faceted problem.

        • paul_gs

          Fresh nutritious food is much less expensive then fast foods. What is missing is taking the time to prepare proper meals for oneself and one’s family.

          Since adults and children alike spend enormous amounts of time watching TV or online every week, it is not a shortage of time stopping folks from preparing healthy and affordable meals.

  • anniemargret

    One other thing. DNA.

    Repeat, DNA.

    There are those for whom no diet will work. The NYT has a great article this weekend just about this. The point to which some bodies will not – not – adhere to a lower weight. Their bodies are at set point and are deeply resistant to losing weight. For some people losing weight is as difficult as getting off alcohol or drugs.

    There should be more understanding in this country instead of a lot of finger-pointing. Instead of the relentless attacks about obesity, why not put more energy into why the chemical makeup of the human body resists weight loss.

    I know many people who eat cake, ice cream and high carbs, do no exericse and are thin. Make no mistake…DNA is a huge factor as well.

    • Traveler

      I read the article with fascination. It made a lot of sense for many that want to try to control their weight, but cannot seem to. However, I think it completely omitted a large population of people who either don’t care, or wont. Have you ever gone to a Buffet? You see whole families just loading up plate after plate. The weight demographics are frightening. We all see the Wal-Mart customer emails.

      As thinker points out, most of us have no penalty for poor choices in our health insurance. Mine (United Health Care) does. If I go over 217 at 6-1, my premium goes up another $30. The perils of self employment I guess. Its tough to maintain, I can tell you.

      Addendum: But how much is DNA, as Annie points out? For most, it is a pre-existing condition if you look though a health care lens. Not so easy to tease out.

      • Primrose

        The article doesn’t require DNA. Once you are fat getting thin is not easy, by that I don’t mean the sacrifice, I mean metabolically.

    • Geprodis

      Yes, this is a true to a point. This is, however, not an excuse for being obese.

      Eating healthy and exercise will put you in good shape. Some people look a little chubby even when they are in perfect physical condition…that is the DNA part of it.

    • paul_gs

      DNA contributes to obesity for only a tiny subset of people.

      • anniemargret

        Wrong again!

        Ever wonder why middle aged women more than men struggle to maintain a healthy, or slim body? It is metabolic syndrome. Which means the slightest amount of overeating carbs or sugar can propel a women to have fat adhere to their bodies without much effort. It is also why it takes a tremendous amount of willpower to adhere to a low carb diet which is about the only thing they can do to get the pounds off.

        Exercise is over emphasized for losing weight. Unless you are into an athletic mode, most people cannot lose weight through exercise. It is good for your muscles, circulation, heart, lungs, etc….but it does not help you lose weight!

        This is one of the biggest fallacies out there. A person that is overweight must adhere to a rigid control of fat and carb grams. Exercise helps streamline the body, but the low calorie diet must be in place first.

        It is also why the high protein, low carb diet (atkins, primal diet) works better for people having to lose 50 lbs+. Eating more protein fills the appetite, a moderate fat filled diet (good fat) and lower carb diet work faster for most, and it is easier to stay on, than low fat, low cal diets.

        I think those out there that have struggled with weight over the years can understand the problem than those that are inclined to eat sufficiently till full, but never have a ‘weight problem.’

        Look… I bet some people here can attest to this scenario. My sister and I grew up in the same house eating the same food and in the same environment. My sister has never had to battle food. She eats what she wants when she wants and doesn’t obsess about food. She has never been overweight. She gets exercise but food is not an issue for her.

        Me? I’ve had to battle weight control since my 20s. I have to work much,much harder than she to keep my weight down. Why is this?

        DNA.

    • Houndentenor

      Not everyone is going to be a size 2. That much is predetermined. But morbid obesity is not just a genetic problem. I know active people who eat well who are still big-boned. They are not morbidly obese. and I do know obese people and not one of them eat healthy food or get anything that resembles exercise. And everyone one of the unhealthy people has serious health problems resulting from their poor choices.

      Not everyone is going to get the same results from eating the same foods and doing the same activities. that much is true. But genetics is too often an excuse for “I might as well eat fast food and sit on my ass all day.” I just moved from New York to Texas and people look at me like I’m insane whenever I walk anywhere. Yes, it’s a half a mile to the store, but unless I’m getting more than I can carry, I’ll walk. It’s a small thing, but it helps.

      • Primrose

        You know Houndenator it simply isn’t true that every obese person eats unhealthy food and doesn’t exercise.

    • kirk

      The same society that inflicted me (at one time) with too much great tasting groceries and Big Macs turned right around and gave me a bicycle, a health club membership, triathlons and long trails through the woods to hike. Then, society gave me a job behind a desk and a cafeteria downstairs with so much good food and an hour to eat all of it I wanted. Then, society gave me a work day that ended early enough for me to jog after I got off at 6pm. But it put lots of restaurants close to my house with delicious t-bone steaks and giant desert portions. Choices! This damnable, wonderful, confusing, beguiling society.

  • Graychin

    Around 1900, this man was a marvel – the circus Fat Man:

    http://www.dietsinreview.com/diet_column/04/circus-fat-man-not-so-shocking-today/

    But I see people fatter than this almost every time I go out. Surely FrumForum’s brain trust can put their heads together and come up with a free-market, Republican solution for obesity. How about a tax cut? :D

    It definitely is not helpful to blame “society” for obesity. What is everyone’s fault is no one’s fault. At some point, it really does boil down to personal responsibility.

    Maybe playing basketball and eating lots of arugula is the way to stay skinny. :D

    • nhthinker

      It definitely is not helpful to blame “society” for obesity. What is everyone’s fault is no one’s fault. At some point, it really does boil down to personal responsibility.

      We will make a libertarian out of Graychin based on his aversion to fat people.

      • Graychin

        No aversion to fat people here. I’m one of them! :D

        (But not as fat as the guy in the picture.)

    • Houndentenor

      Agreed about personal responsibility. Just because our culture makes poor choices easy and affordable, doesn’t mean we can’t make other choices. Sometimes we have to choose between what is good for us and what is convenient.

    • Primrose

      Except that the obesity epidemic is happening in underdeveloped countries too. It isn’t true that it is simply an American society thing. But really people, why does it all have to be one cause solely. There may be environmental problem, plus genetics, plus sedentary lifestyle, plus too many food cues, plus the packaged food bit.

      Also, I’m reading the book Incognito about the brain, and it makes very clear that the conscious mind is rarely in control, the more keyed to basic survival a function is the less the conscious mind gets to talk. Also, it says that there are a number of competing arguments going on in our decisions, and often we do an action and then make up a reason why we did it, so our sense of perfect control is just that a sense.

  • TerryF98

    High fructose corn syrup in almost everything.
    No exercise for most people.
    Fast food in excess

    =overweight population.

    • nhthinker

      people making undisciplined lazy and indulgent short term focused choices

      =overweight population

      “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body,”

      Or whatever moral code you live by that includes self-respect and self-discipline.

      • Traveler

        I think you might want to read that NYT article. It is not so cut and dry.

      • LauraNo

        I never stop being amazed at what a low regard some conservatives have for their fellow man. You couldn’t just say it’s their own fault, you had to fling insults too?

    • Geprodis

      You forgot dairy. Americans are eating 5 times as much cheese as 50 years ago (don’t remember the exact figure, but that’s about right).

      • sweatyb

        cheese! yum!

        • anniemargret

          Double yum!

          I remember chatting with a local Italian deli guy once about cheese and ‘fake’ cheese (low-fat).

          He said, “the problem with American is not the food. It is because they eat too much of the good food! Eat the real cheese. Eat the pasta. Eat the cannoli. But don’t eat too mucha of the cheese, don’t eat too mucha of the pasta, or the cannoli”

          That’s it, isn’t it?

  • dante

    No offense, DF, but I think that the way we worked to eliminating smoking would be a GREAT start to combating obesity.

    1) Tax unhealthy food more. Cigarettes are closing in on $15/pack in NYC, up from ~$1 twenty five years ago. As you noted, soda is the primary intake of calories, so can you imagine soda consumption if you placed the same multiplier on it? 15x the (inflation adjusted) $2 20 years ago would mean that a 2L bottle of soda would cost $30 today. Guess what, there’d be FAR fewer people drinking soda if that was the case.

    2) Use the money to fund healthier alternatives. Gym memberships. Fresh fruits and vegetables. Non-processed food. Higher-fiber alternatives to current food. My wife’s old job in NYC had a gym membership reimbursement program. You paid for your gym membership out of pocket, and if you went 50+ times in 6 months you got $200 (so total of $400/year). This would just about cover a cheaper membership at the Y, or take a small chunk out of a more expensive membership at the Princeton Club, for instance. Knowing that if you don’t get your sorry ass off the couch and go to the gym you lose $200 is a pretty good incentive, and it also ensures that you’re actually *using* the gym instead of treating it like a freebie from work or the government.

    3) National shift in America’s mindset about getting healthier. People aren’t smoking as much because it’s perceived as dirty, disgusting, and “not cool.” When traveling to other areas of the world, I see that same change in mindset about becoming healthier as well. I used to travel to Korea (South, of course) for work, and there has been a national change in their mindset in the past ~10 years or so. Far fewer people are smoking, but people are engaging in other healthy activities as well. Jogging or walking in the mornings. Hiking. Tai Chi. Group exercises. It’s become fashionable to go on your morning constitutional through the local park in the mornings with your children or grandchildren. In national parks there are pieces of exercise equipment (chin-up bars, planks for sit ups, etc) scattered throughout the areas. It’s become almost patriotic to be healthy.

    You talk about it being more than willpower, but it’s coming to grips with the fact that being healthy isn’t easy. We’ve been fed a stream of lies and promises that we don’t have to sacrifice, we don’t have to suffer, we don’t have to work hard in order to succeed.

    Can’t afford a house? Lie on your mortgage application about your income, get an interest-only loan and sell the house in 10 years just before your interest rate resets.

    Can’t afford that TV/Sofa Set/Car/etc? Borrow money for it and you can have it today!

    Want a new car but owe more on your old one than it’s worth? No problem, roll the additional amount into the new loan.

    Want tax cuts but are worried that it’ll cause a spike in the deficit? No problem, tax cuts pay for themselves. You get to keep more money in your pocket, and reduce the deficit all at the same time.

    Want to lose weight? This new piece of exercise equipment requires only 5min/day, 3 days/week. If that’s too hard, you can still lose weight by drinking this shake, eating this cereal, or taking these pills. If those aren’t appetizing, how about sticking these electrodes on your belly while watching tv? It’ll cause your muscles to contract 100x/minute, just like you were doing crunches!

    We haven’t had a politician stand up and say “We can only get out of this mess with hard work and sacrifice” in years. Everyone promises the quick fix, the easy answer, or the idea that other people will have to sacrifice (ie, public workers), but you won’t have to change your ways… That is the change in mindset that needs to happen. If it doesn’t nothing is ever, ever going to change.

    • Geprodis

      Dante, good post, I’ll respond to your points.

      1.) I’m a libertarian but on the issue of taxing really unhealthy life choices…my arm can be twisted. Hard to argue against taxes on unhealthy behavior from a practical standpoint.

      2.) Trying to eat healthy is much easier than exercising. Exercising is super boring, and unless you have some kind of goal (impressing people with your body, or whatever it is) a monetary reward isn’t enough. Well, unless you are paid millions like some movie stars…
      Getting people to a gym is wishful thinking….people just need a to booty dance in their living room for 20 minutes a day a few days a week and they will make vast improvements over time.

      3.)This shift is happening. Even McDonald’s is trying to be healthier. Whole Foods is more popular all the time. I remember 12 years ago or so when I was starting to read about nutrition and trying to find healthy food at the store, it was really difficult to find healthy food back then! Now, it’s easy, even the regular grocery stores usually have a healthy section.

      I honestly don’t think you have to work that hard to be healthy. Drink tea instead of coffee, rice milk instead of milk. Stay away from foods with many additives and preservatives, no cheese on the sandwich. I mean, this is really how you become healthy..small, easy, PERMANENT steps.

      • Graychin

        “Even McDonald’s is trying to be healthier. ”

        Do you really think so? I think they’re just putting some rarely-sold “healthy” choices on their menu for PR purposes. “See – we’re trying.”

        McDonald’s is trying to be healthy like BP is trying to be “green.”

        • Geprodis

          You’re probably right, but it shows that the population WANTS healthier choices, even though they can still be tricked.

        • Graychin

          SOME of the population clearly does want healthy choices. I’m not sure how many of those choose to eat at McDonald’s.

          There is also a good chunk of the population that SAYS it wants healthy choices – but then order the Big Mac with supersized fries, and a large soda. And a fried pie.

      • dante

        1) It’s easy to reconcile the libertarian side with the “intervening to get people healthy” idea: Fat people have a direct and negative effect on my life. It’s raising health care costs everywhere, and when my monthly costs go up because my tubby coworker just had his 3rd bypass surgery I can demand that the government step in and work to get him healthier. There’s also lost productivity through greater number of sick days, affecting national GDP. The federal government just had to revise their “maximum capacity” number for ferries since Americans, on average, are 25lbs heavier than when the guidelines were written.

        2) Exercise is boring (I hate it). Activities are fun (I love it)! As a cyclist, I can last ~20min on an indoor trainer. On the flip side, put me on a bike on an open road and I’ll ride for 3-4 hours. Find an activity that you enjoy (swimming, running, cycling, basketball, squash, cross-country skiing, etc) and you’ll be far healthier than just concentrating on getting in shape.

        3) This won’t matter one whit if American’s don’t decide to be healthier. As we’ve seen from McDonalds, they might have a healthy selection but people won’t (necessarily) buy it.

      • Primrose

        I too am all for taxing sodas and the like, and subsidizing gym memberships. However, losing weight is not the same as getting healthy. It is easy to get healthy. The weight may never come off. Second, while exercise is essential for health it is not a good weight loss strategy. It can increase appetite and the average amount even a dedicated person would be able to do, let’s say an hour of cardio every day, isn’t going to get you to lose that much weight, maybe one pound a week, that means in three months only 12 pounds, a lot a weight for someone really close to their goal, but as the times says, not even a dress size for a larger woman. Without positive feedback for sacrifice, the ability to do it weakens. That’s the way the brain works.

        And that is all if your body doesn’t ratchet the cost of exercise down, which it will.

        I am all for getting people to be healthier. That is a doable project. But if we suddenly pretend this will cause weight loss, permanent weight loss, and thus dramatic shifts in health, it’s a lie.

        • anniemargret

          Primrose, you get it.

          I get the feeling these guys here are under some type of simple solution scenario for millions of Americans.

          Sure, there are gluttons out there. But millions more have an enormous struggle against weight gain, and there are a multitude of issues that affect that struggle than just jumping on a bike or eating arugula.

          geez…

        • LauraNo

          I think we need some expert opinions on the value of exercise on weight loss. If you can lose 12 pounds, that seems like a very good thing to me and especially if we consider the fact that muscle weighs more than fat. So what is the 12 pounds then? Does a person lose 15 -20 lbs. of fat but then put 3 – 8 lbs. back on, simultaneously as muscle? Either way, 12 pounds makes a big difference to health, if not dress size I would think.

  • Geprodis

    The cause of American obesity is a combination of refined sugar (high fructose corn syrup, etc.) and dairy.

    American are eating way more dairy than ever before. Pizza is one of the problems, Starbucks milkshakes, the list is long. Cutting dairy out of your diet is completely healthy. Also, with Rice, Soy, and Almond substitutes it’s not even too difficult to give up dairy.
    Remember, the original purpose of cow’s milk is to turn a small calf into a giant cow very quickly.

    The other problem is too much refined sugar in the American diet. Go check the ingredients of virtually every item at regular grocery store. Even the bread has a high fructose corn syrup. Eating refined sugar gives you an appetite. So if there is refined sugar in everything you are eating, well, you’re going to eat much more than you need.

    You did mention sugary sodas in your article, but I don’t know how you went there form redesigning cities. Also, the price of sugary sodas has little to do with their consumption. Like cigarettes, they are highly addictive (caffeine is added to help addict you)

    The author mentions that willpower isn’t enough. He’s right, you also need knowledge. Willpower and knowledge IS enough.

    Controlling your weight has nothing to do with your job or the way the city is designed…it’s a choice you make.

    David Frum, you come off as a liberal with your ridiculous solution to the weight problem.

    Take the Libertarian approach and take responsibility for your own life.

    • sweatyb

      skinny people telling fat people how to be skinny is always going to end in hilarity.

      I’ve been skinny my whole life, but it has nothing to do with any conscious decisions I’ve made about my lifestyle or my eating habits.

      • Geprodis

        I was overweight from age 9-18. Sweatyb, you have nothing to contribute so why bother?

        Also, just because you are skinny does not mean you are healthy.

      • Primrose

        And even if it was caused by conscious decisions, plenty of research is showing that how skinny people lose weight and how fat people lose weight is very different.

  • paul_gs

    If you as an individual want to change your weight, you must change your whole life.

    Really? Pick up a few different foods at the supermarket and instead of spending 26 hours a week in front of the TV or computer, spend a few hours on a treadmill.

    Weight loss will follow for 98% of individuals making these few changes on a consistent basis.

    • larocquj

      +1. For many people it’s about simple lifestyle choices. It’s not as hard as changing your whole life.

  • Oldskool

    Reading this thread was exhausting so I ate a big plate of spaghetti and now I have to take a pre-bedtime nap.

  • SJReidhead

    Speaking as one of those worthless fat people who is a drain on society, what do you want of us? Are we to drop off the face of the earth, or try living a healthy life and learn how to be thankful for the body the Good Lord saw fit to allow us to have? We are the only group of people who are not socially acceptable these days. Sorry, but I’m not going away. You can degrade my life, criticize me, but you know something, I no longer care. I am who I am and that’s the end of it. I’m going to keep on with my life until the thin bigots with their nets come and throw me into an institution.

    That’s how I feel. You can preach and make assumptions about my life, but I suspect they would be wrong. Let’s see: I don’t eat any form of meat or fish, don’t drink soda, limit my salt, don’t do fast food, and don’t dare eat anything fried now that “healthy” sunflower oil might be in it (I’m terribly allergic to it). I do limited dairy, am allergic to anything with egg products, so…. where am I going wrong?

    Oh, I chose the wrong ancestors.

    SJR
    The Pink Flamingo

    • sweatyb

      +1 for being warmer in winter

    • anniemargret

      Well, I’m in your corner of the debate.

      These ‘just get on your bike and eat healthier’ people are 1) offering simple solutions to complex problems 2) don’t see the complex and 3) have probably never had to battle a real weight problem in their life.

      Hang in there….there’s a lot of people who understand the complexities of losing weight and it was so simple, why is there a new diet book out there every week?

  • Emma

    David: not the crowd for this discussion. Note the posts that would fault young children for their choices. Your erstwhile conservative ideology at work…

    • nhthinker

      How old do children need to be before you think its appropriate for parents to reward them for making good voluntary choices about food and exercise? Or do you want an authoritarian state to make all those choices for them until a specific age?

      • Holmes

        Brilliant. You’ve proved Emma’s point.

        • nhthinker

          Holmes,
          Have you been responsible for raising children? If so, did you ever reward or praise them for making good food or good exercise choices? If not, what is your point?

  • greg_barton

    It’s not as simple as calories in / calories out. I have spent years battling my weight, even after losing 80 pounds in my mid 20′s. (gained it all back) I found that it became a calories in / calories out game when I corrected two important dietary factors: got enough magnesium in me and stopped eating wheat gluten. Now I actually lose weight when I reduce caloric intake and I’m not hungry to the point of temporary insanity. (that’s how I describe the situation where I’ve driven to the store, bought ice cream, came back home, and am half way through a carton and can’t remember having done any of it.) Both magnesium deficiency and low level gluten sensitivity have huge effects on how our metabolisms work, or rather whether they work well. In the case of magnesium, most of the US population doesn’t even get the RDA level in their diet, and that level is low for optimum health.

    • anniemargret

      Interesting.

      The real problem lies in the complexity of chemicals within our bodies.

      And the one size fits all mentality of most of the bloggers here, who actually and honestly think all it takes is an easy solution for all people. Not.

      Not every body works the same way and it is why diet doctors are still making millions. If losing weight was easier, no one would be fat! ;-)

  • a.n.

    “Want to change this? It’s no small project. It would involve the redesign of cities, the relocation of schools, the reinvention of our modes of eating and amusement.

    First lady Michelle Obama has made healthy eating her special project. Good for her, and let’s hope her efforts lead to success. But if we are to succeed, we should understand: The campaign against obesity will have to look a lot less like the campaign against smoking (which involves just one decision, to smoke or not to smoke) and much more like the generation-long campaign against highway fatalities, which required the redesign of cars, the redesign of highways, and changes in personal behavior like seat-belt use and drunk driving.”

    I’m not sure I want to change it badly enough to do all that.

  • TerryF98

    Quick vote

    Will you try to lose weight in 2012?

    Yes 76% 36830
    No 24% 11665
    Total votes: 48495

    Obviously the people who read the CNN website think they need to loose weight… 76% consider themselves overweight!

    • paul_gs

      It’s back to bigger salads and more runs on the treadmill starting tomorrow for me. Xmas and New Years are bad times for eating for me.

  • anniemargret

    Here’s another thought.

    Being slim is not an arbiter that you are healthy.

    In fact, there are many slim people who are very unhealthy.

    In fact, there are people who are considered ‘overweight’ by today’s standards, and are very healthy.

    We know what healthy is and we know that eating nutritious foods and getting some exercise every day (a nice power walk for 30 mins, or a good swim for 30 minutes) is sufficient.

    Then we should also ENJOY our food! That is one of the differences between Europeans who are overall not fat, but they eat enjoyable foods, drink wine and beer, and walk and bike more than we do. They also have a less stressful day than the average American.

    One of the best books written on this topic was Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food.”

  • Deep South Populist

    The US government, the dietary and nutrition establishment, and to a lesser extent PETA, the radical vegans, and the anti-meat fanatics deserve most of the blame. They’re the ones who banged the discredited “low fat” diet for decades.

    As for the rest of the blame, it belongs nowhere other than on the obese individuals themselves.

    Get off your asses. Eat some healthy food. Get some exercise. Lift weights, especially if you’re a man. Quit blaming society and other people if you don’t like what you see when you look in the mirror.

    • anniemargret

      oh pooh.

      They are ‘off their asses’ – working hard. Read Pollan’s book and listen to what people go through to lose weight. You might be a little more wiser, and a lot more compassionate.

  • anniemargret

    And low-fat is now thoroughly discredited btw. if they take “Fat out” they have to put ‘something back in.”

    More chemicals to fill the appetite when you take the ‘fat out.’

    The only solution is fresher foods and a saner lifestyle, but ask the food industry if they are going to give up growing corn and corn syrup products. They won’t because it’s lucrative.

  • anniemargret

    Hey…anyone for a pizza with mushrooms and garlic?

  • nhthinker

    The comments here have way too much emphasis on food and much too little emphasis on physical activity. Healthy people need a lot of exercise and a fair amount of muscle. Less than an hour a day- no equipment needed.

  • TJ Parker

    Want to change this? It’s no small project. It would involve the redesign of cities, the relocation of schools, the reinvention of our modes of eating and amusement.

    Aww, your heart bleeds too much. The obese, and even the merely chubby, lament: its society that did this to my body! Its transportation! Its the food! Its the soda! Its corn syrup!

    Walk. Play a sport. Eat well. Get off your @ss and exercise.

    Where’s the party of personal responsibility now? Whining fat middle-aged professionals, line up with the welfare queens and the inner city criminals! You’re all victims of society, poor dears! We must reinvent society to shield you from laziness and self-indulgence.

    Bullsh!t. Become a vegan for a couple months, and if you haven’t lost weight after that time, the turnip that is my heart might bleed a tad for the limp thing that is your will.

    • TJ Parker

      Oh, and let’s not hear one of you weak-willed fat-bellied whiners come around and tell gay folks that they should “will themselves” to fall in love with a more appropriate mate.

  • anniemargret

    And if someone is ‘obese’ he is full human being in the eyes of God…A pox on the slimjims and janes here who pontificate upon thousands of human beings. How do they know who’s trying or who isn’t? A bit of arrogance thrown in with a bit of ignorance.

    Here’s an easy prescription: eliminate and stay away from processed foods, eat as much real food as is affordable, eat good fat, and lessen the sugar. Walk about 20 mins per day.

    That’s it. If a person does this, or as close to it as humanly possible, they can be a bit heavy and still be healthy. The slim craze is crazy; so many people sound like a bunch of loons.

    Oh, and TJ: Being a vegan takes out half of the enjoyment of life. Who wants to eat bean mush to stay thin? Good grief…there are better ways.

    And have a slice of that mushroom and garlic pizza, and a nice glass of moscato with it. It’s been known to liven up the disposition.

    • TJ Parker

      Oh, and TJ: Being a vegan takes out half of the enjoyment of life. Who wants to eat bean mush to stay thin? Good grief…there are better ways.

      If food is half the enjoyment of life, then your life is truly impoverished.

      Hey, I’ve had the four-hour tasting menu at Jean Georges and the French Laundry. But there’s a lot to be said for a simple meal of spinach salad with pecans and cranberries too. You don’t eat to stay thin; you eat to stay healthy. (Well maybe not you you. Me you.) Why is a cup of ice cream more satisfying than a spoonful?

      And have a slice of that mushroom and garlic pizza, and a nice glass of moscato with it. It’s been known to liven up the disposition.

      A nice vegan meal. Glad you approve.

      • greg_barton

        Except for the cheese, bubba.

        • TJ Parker

          Cheese! Well I grew up in Southern California where pizza does not necessarily include cheese. But I also lived in NYC, so I know where you’re coming from.

    • TJ Parker

      Oh, I missed the bit where you peer through the eyes of God. Kinda odd that you overlooked centuries of the “seven deadly sins” meme. Capital vices or cardinal sins. These include, of course, gluttony and sloth, right there next to the favorite of Evanjellyculs: lust.

      Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. Ezekiel 16:49

      The sin of Sodom, madame. The sin of Sodom.

      Half the enjoyment of life! Eat locusts, like John the Baptist. Crunchy with a nutty flavor.

  • magatha

    Nowhere in this conversation has anyone addressed the paradox of a government that re-brands pizza as a vegetable in order to accommodate the frozen food industry. By doing so, school children across the U.S. will be developing poor eating habits that will plague them throughout their lives. And please do not try to defend the government’s actions by falling back on that tired old saw about personal responsibility or self-discipline. We are talking about kids. If they were capable of making good decisions, we’d supply them all with driver’s licenses and voting privileges before they entered kindergarten. They have neither the experience or the maturity to understand that their bad choices could have long lasting and negative consequences.

    My point is that it is amazing to me that some posters on this forum are fine with big government interference when it comes to ensuring that the food industry has a captive market, but dislike the idea of using government as it was meant to be used–to look out for the citizens’ best interests.

  • jquintana

    Unless you have a major thyroid problem, all it takes is self-education, discipline and personal responsibility to attain optimal healthy weight and appearance. This is my recommendation:

    1) Read the following books and apply what you learn in them:
    -Fit for Life by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond
    -Sugar Blues by William Dufty
    2) Exercise 4 times a week, doing 30 minutes of cardio and 15 minutes of resistance training. It’s much easier than you think, and if you’re not sure how to it, educate yourself — the information is out there waiting for you.
    3) Stop blaming “society” for your personal problems.

    • Ogemaniac

      Hogwash. It depends tremendously on your genetics. For the record, I was the fattest kid in my class back in the 80s when I was in grade school, lost some weight in high school via discipline, gained it back as a freshman, but finally got my BMI down to around 26 in grad school, where it has remained for a decade.

      Here is what I have to do to keep the weight off:

      1: Exercise 5-6 times per week, no exceptions. The minimum is a 30 minute jog or 45 minutes of weight training + 20 minutes of warmup/cooldown cardio. On weekends, it usually consists of full-day hiking trips or 3-4 hours of cycling.

      2: Eat an insane amount of non-starchy vegetables, minimal meat, and junk food only on special occasions

      3: Spend at least four hours per day both awake and hungry to the point of irritation. This usually means 4-7 pm (the end of my workday plus the commute) and 10-11 pm before I got to bed.

      That’s a heck of a lot harder than reading a couple books and exercising as little as you claim, and it still only gets me to barely overweight by government standards. And no, it isn’t muscle that pushes me over the BMI limit, but real belly fat.

      • jquintana

        First of all, I appreciate the acknowledgement that it takes personal responsibility on your part to stay fit.

        That said, your interpretation of one of my statements is way off base:

        That’s a heck of a lot harder than reading a couple books

        I stated that you should read the books and apply what you learn from reading them. Big difference. If you read both of these books and really, truly apply what is in them, you will never have a weight problem again (provided, of course, you continue to work out consistently).

        Also, there is a problem with your approach that needs to be addressed:

        Spend at least four hours per day both awake and hungry to the point of irritation

        When you allow yourself to go hungry for that length of time or longer, it sends a single to your metabolism that you’re going into starvation mode, and your body reacts to this phenomenon by storing everything you eat into fat, no matter what it is. With you being a male, that would explain your stubborn excess belly fat. And I suspect that your largest meal is around 8:00 pm, judging by your statement that you’re hungry to the point of irritation by the time you get home from work, and it probably takes you about an hour to unwind and prepare dinner.

        You’d be better off saving some of those insane amounts of non-starchy vegetables for your commute home and grazing on them throughout the day. Grazing on food all day long rather than eating 2-3 large meals will help your body’s metabolism kick into higher gear and help you burn calories faster and more efficiently. Eating a large meal after 8:00 pm will continue to add to your fat storage, because you really won’t have time to digest it all before you go to bed at night.

  • armstp

    It is all about the massive food industry, particularly in the U.S. They are now manufacturing much more calories at much cheaper costs. The growth of high-fructose corn syrup is just one example. The growth of the fast food industry is another example. There are any number of documentaries on the food industry that document what has changed in the U.S. over the last 50 years.

    • TJ Parker

      Right. And when gas prices are low, I hitch a trailer to the back of my car, because I can buy and lug around extra gas at no extra cost!

      Oh, you forgot some things from your list. E.g. hot women love chunky guys who guzzle beer and eat Doritos.

      • magatha

        No. When gas prices are low, people feel comfortable buying fuel-inefficient vehicles such as SUVs and Hummers.

        Despite comments to the contrary, fresh vegetables etc are not as cheap as boxes of mac and cheese, frozen pizzas, and super-sized fast foods. Compare the cost of soft drinks to milk and you will find that soda is going to be cheaper. All of these over-processed foods have high sugar and/or salt content and have also proven to be addictive. Add lots of bright, shiny advertising campaigns, a branch of government unethical enough to pronounce pizza a vegetable, and easy (or no) preparation time, and of course many people will choose the quicker, more convenient option.

        • paul_gs

          Yup, it’s always someone elses fault how the unhealthy food gets into someone’s mouth.

        • magatha

          Such comments are simplistic, unhelpful, and inaccurate. It is, indeed, someone elses fault when polluted water ends up in someone’s mouth. Or when tainted food ends up in someone’s mouth. When the government falls down on the job (ie. refusing to ensure that the general populace understands the risks involved in various activities, and/or allowing the impression that bad choices are not bad at all–such as when the congress decides that pizza is a vegetable) and refuses to hold big business accountable, then people’s health and well-being will be endangered and, yes, that is someone elses fault.

        • Traveler

          Magatha, Good points. Many libertarians have a selective application of liberty, especially on behalf of corporate persons. Cannot fathom why. Its like they have half a brain.

        • armstp

          Paul,

          You have to ask yourself. What has changed in the last 100 years? Are people really that less responsible in their eating habits (perhaps, but not likely) or has the food they eat or the delivery of those calories changed (we have seen massive changes in food and the food industry)?

  • Ogemaniac

    The government subsidies corn heavily. The government subsidizes cars heavily and all but forces us to drive everywhere. Americans are fat.

    In other news, 2+2=4.

    • paul_gs

      Add in the fact that government has banned bicycles and all forms of exercise and you have the makings of an obesity epidemic.

      • magatha

        You are clearly unfamiliar with the U.S. Many people live in suburbs and must drive long distances to get to work or shopping. There are few safe walking or cycling alternatives open to people in suburbs. Urban areas frequently do not have safe options for cyclists. So, no, the government may not have banned those activities, but they are frequently not viable options for many people.

      • Traveler

        You want to ride a bike on our winding 20 foot roads with SUVs careening about during rush hour? Our tax dollars make it possible to have oversized cars and cheap gas. Add in zoning laws to preclude compact development and we get mcMansions in the fields, with no way around. One good thing about the crash is that their era is now history

  • Nanotek

    “Want to change this? It’s no small project. It would involve the redesign of cities, the relocation of schools, the reinvention of our modes of eating and amusement.”

    a social engineering instinct forces its way into the open … not bad at all

    I spent 25 years in a city running 7 miles a day, every day, 200 sit ups and light weights … never considered exercise “recreational” … now I live at the foot of a mountain and hike it at noon … am lucky

    • dante

      As someone who lives in a flat state (WI), I hate you.

      Being able to commute to work by bicycle 9-10 months out of the year probably makes up for it, though…

  • camus32

    Here’s a simple program:

    Stop encouraging (subsidizing) home ownership and the automobile industry. Then people and schools and grocery stores will start concentrating themselves naturally. People will get rid of their cars and start walking again. Mass transport will need to be developed or expanded (jobs anyone?) and solar panels can be required on every new structure that is built (at least in the souther half of the US). Result: smaller utility bills along with fewer or no car payments: people will have a lot more money to spend and they will be healthier, so medical spending will probably drop significantly. Pollution would also be reduced.

    Yes, these would be big changes, and they would force some big adjustments for many people. Nonetheless it would be a major step in the right direction. Or we can just continue wringing our hands and calling any one who proposes serious change a “crank”.

  • think4yourself

    What I find interesting about the comments to David’s articles is that few are challenging this based on politics.

    David’s suggesting that we ought to social engineer obesity. This is not a GOP position to take. How would he propose doing it politically.

    BTW, the steps to change obesity is simple, the ability to do so is politically unfeasible. Require everyone to eat 60% vegetables & fruits, 30% whole grains, and 10% in other calories (little or no meat, little or no additional fat), all prepared in healthful ways. Exercise daily.

    The results would arguably be worth it. For kids, increased concentration, better test scores, better moods, etc. For adults, more productivity, better feelings of health and wellbeing. For society, enormous drop in medical costs. Over decades an increase in lifespan of approximately 10 years (verified by studies with populations who eat this way both in the US and out). There would be losers. Food companies that make processed foods (’cause we’d quit eating them), drug companies (because the vast majority of drugs on the market treat symptoms caused by dietary and lifestyle habits. Doctors and hospitals in general for the same reason.

    But it won’t happen.

    PS. I like Dante’s ideas regarding treating this like smoking.

    PSS. Is David (a psuedo- Republican) really suggesting this level of government intervention?

  • think4yourself

    Final comment, addiction to bad habits are real. For example, I find myself reading and commenting on FF when I should be working, exercising, etc.