The United States of Fat
CalorieLab has out their annual "fattest States" and it’s no surprise. Folks just keep getting fatter, so much so that they had to change the categories slightly so it wasn’t a wash of red, fat, states.
American obesity is something that’s really noticeable if you’re from out of country. Not that Canada doesn’t have its own fatness epidemic, but as in so many things, we just aren’t the leaders in the field. Americans are, well, fat. And even Americans who aren’t fat are mostly overweight. In fact the numbers on that map really understate things, what I find shocking is that when they add up obese (BMI >30) and overweight (25 to 29.9) there’s no State in the union that isn’t over 50%. Mississipi, the worst, weighs in at 69.1% combined.
Sure, you can weasel this a bit. BMI does have some problems, and we’re all good progressives here who don’t like to judge people based on the fact that their packing a few extra pounds *cough*. But it does measure something, and more to the point, it just keeps going up, year in, year out and it has for decades. Americans, or Canadians for that matter, just weren’t this fat 30 years ago.
Or even 10.
The first fact I’d push on is the farm bill and the way it subsidizes things like corn syrup production, so that the empty calories in the center aisles of grocery stores; the calories that are bad for you, are much cheaper than healthy lean meat and vegetable calories. The US literally subsidizes crap food that makes people fat. Because no, it isn’t just about calories. If you’re eating too much sweetened crap, your blood sugar gets messed up and even if you don’t wind up an outright diabetic or hypoglycemic, it plays havoc with your appetite. And if you’re missing essential nutrients in your diet, your body keeps wanting them and keeps telling you to eat more, in the vain hope you might eat something that isn’t crap. Food pollution of this kind doesn’t just make Americans fat, it costs them billions in health care costs, and causes untold suffering and misery due to ill-health. And the subsidies go almost entirely to large corporate agribusiness, not to save little family farms, as the myth would have it.
The second problem is the "cult of the car" combined with the "burbification of America". You generally can’t walk anywhere useful in the burbs, and even when you can most North Americans still hop in the car to go two blocks, because the streets weren’t designed for walking anyway. When I used to work at my last big corporate job I knew people whose entire daily exercise was walking to and from their car. Of course they were unhealthy, out of shape and overweight. How could they not be?
If I were going to pick a third, it would be that people are never really taught how to exercise. Phys.ed gets cut back every year, but those programs that do exist tend to concentrate on team sports instead of teaching students how to do basic strength, cardio and flexibility training—a skill which they could use for life. And for most students, most sports don’t raise heart rates enough, long enough, to do any good anyway. So kids who have little natural exercise in their lives, being driven everywhere by their folks, never learn how to exercise and never get into the habit. It’s no wonder that as they get older they still don’t exercise.
No one should be discriminated against or looked down on because they’re overweight. But as a society it is in no one’s interest for the population to keep packing on the pounds. Fortunately, while hard to fix, the basic problem is actually fairly clear. Hopefully one of these years we’ll be able to fix the farm bill; hopefully pedagogy around exercise will change, and as oil becomes more expensive, hopefully those burbs that survive will be made more friendly to the lowly pedestrian and people will stop turning up their nose at the idea of walking to the store.