Obesity isn't solved yet -- so why do we legislate like it is?

We know that people have gotten fatter over the course of the last 60 years. We don't yet know exactly why, writes David Berreby in a fascinating long read at Aeon Magazine. Yes, we know that diet and exercise have something to do with it — but they don't explain all the changes we've seen. Yes, you can find plenty of people who will proselytize to you about how they've found the One True Obesogen — but in order to do that they have to ignore contradictory studies and studies that suggest there's more than one thing going on.

Long story short, if we know anything about obesity its that it's complicated — and that's true for both the factors that create an obesity epidemic, and the factors that allow people to reliably and permanently lose weight. The problem, writes Berreby, is that legislation on the subject has been focused pretty much entirely on diet and exercise, alone. That suggests that laziness and gluttony are the primary reasons people get fat. But we don't know that that's true.

Berreby's piece is a really fun read, mainly because it can serve as an introduction to the plethora of far-reaching and often contradictory data on obesity. There are lots and lots and lots of different things that might be behind the obesity epidemic, from industrial chemicals, to sugary high-fat diets, to epigenetic factors that pass the environmental impacts of one generation on to their descendants. There are even social factors that influence how exposed you are to other risks and affect your ability to make the healthy choices when it comes to diet and exercise. His point: If we want to tackle this as a society, then our legislative response shouldn't begin and end with programs that punish people for being fat, reward them for losing weight, or limit portion sizes at restaurants. We also need to try out programs that put some of the other legitimate ideas to the test.

Thanks for the link, Xeni!


  1. Thanks for this, and the link. 

    FWIW, as near as I can tell, the body doesn’t really make many mistakes. They’ve worked pretty well for millenia. So our bodies may think something is going on, and from that assumption causing obesity, which we consciously don’t realize, or agree with, or may be based on assumptions that no longer pertain to modern lifestyles.
    I suspect that what our bodies are trying to decide is, in simple terms, this: Am I a farmer? Or am I a hunter-gatherer?
    1. If I am a farmer, then I will be eating plenty of different healthy foods, which are readily available. So I will eat mostly early in the day, chew slower, eat healthily, etc. So the body doesn’t hang on to calories for dear life.
    2. If I am a hunter-gatherer, then I need to hang on to calories for dear life. Food is scarce, and when available, may be unreliable nutritionally. The body decides this because we eat irregularly, eat low quality foods, tend to skip meals often, eat late in the day, gobble down food quickly when we have it, or any number of a range of other behaviors.
    So one of the reasons why causes of obesity may be difficult to pin down, is because the body isn’t regulating itself on a few behaviors. It is regulating our fat retention, etc., on a principle, based on whether we are one of the two historical groups which has dominated human life for millenia.

    1. The theory sounds good, but is contrary to my experience. I’ve always eaten like the hunter-gatherer half of your dichotomy, but I’ve never come close to getting fat. I’m 38, so there’s been plenty of time for it to happen.

      But perhaps the theory’s valid, and being a smoker and a cyclist is enough to offset the effect…

    2.  And real hunter gatherers (not refugees) probably ate a well balanced diet.

      Also, early farmers did their own feast and famine cycle of packing on as many pounds as possible in the fall to get them through winter.  And in a so-so year they were pretty lean and hungry by spring as they waited like ghouls for the sheep to give birth to the spring lambs.  Then they started planting and plowing without much to eat for the next couple months.

      1. I agree, and in my research, most traditional diets ended up being pretty nutritious.

        So perhaps I should back off from the too-specific dichotomy of “hunter lying in wait for something to hopefully walk by” (popular example: http://bit.ly/1ag1T2g) versus the “early-rising farmer gorging on the Summer veg before winter” (e.g., http://bit.ly/cfUOZM), and instead just say: insecure/irregular food environment vs. plentiful/regular food environment?

        Perhaps that makes more sense?

        Although I’ve studied in traditional, non-Western societies, I’m mostly referring to modern/Western tendencies, such as why the poor are often over-weight, and the wealthy are often thin.  There are tons of considerations: nutritional quality is certainly a factor, caloric intake, fasting often vs. scheduled eating, genetic predisposition/historical food availability, time of day eating, activity levels, speed of actual eating, etc.  Taking each on their own, they don’t seem to add up to a very clear picture. 
        Yet, overall, I keep coming back to this basic dichotomy of principles: a feast or famine environment.  And in general, if famine, hang on to every calorie for dear life (literally); feast, and there’s no need to.  Which, to my mind at least, seems to explain the range of variables in most situations I encounter with the thin vs. the obese.

  2. “……If we want to tackle this as a society, then our legislative response shouldn’t begin and end with programs that punish people for being fat, reward them for losing weight…..”
    I would agree with this. There is already plenty of incentive not to be overweight. Even if we take the health risks out, it seems better in nearly every way to be thin. You can just do more fun things. Walk/hike further, climb higher, run faster and further, cycle faster and further, paddle better, row better, play team sports better….just generally participate in enjoyable physical activities more. Sure there are also a lot of fun things that are are weight agnostic like socialising, music, visual and performance arts, but being overweight doesn’t really give you an adavantage in anything that I can think of, except perhaps sumo wrestling.

    And that is without taking into account the way that overweight people are judged and discriminated against which is presumably awful to experience. No, incentives and punsihments aren’t the answer. If they were, we’d have it solved.

    1. And that is without taking into account the way that overweight people are judged and discriminated against which is presumably awful to experience.

      I’ve never had a critic has harsh as myself.

        1. Well I’m not sure if you are implying anything or not, but the answer is fairly straight forward.

          It’s not because of anyone else in my life.  My parents and friends have always (even as a kid) been supportive and weight has never been an issue.  Sure there was the occasional bully in elementary school, but once I was home for the day I never really thought about them. 

          Honestly I never thought much about my weight/appearance until I was an adult.  I’m hard on myself because it’s a logical outcome to what I see, how I think, and what all it makes me feel.  I make the choice every day of what I eat, like that bag of chocolate covered almonds from Trader Joes…that I bought yesterday…that I finished yesterday.  Sure it was an impulse buy, but now that I look back on it I feel bad because I knew at the time I shouldn’t buy them because I’d eat the whole damn bag.  And what happened…exactly.  I don’t eat to feel better, I just eat because things taste good…but I’m not blaming the food I just need to learn more self control and will power.

    2. I have almost always been overweight in the sense that my weight is higher than average for my height. In part it’s due to having a large build and a lot of muscle, but I’ve nearly always had extra body fat, too. In the past few years, my BMI has crossed the threshold above which a person is considered clinically obese. I don’t feel that obesity is slowing me down. I can’t think of any activities I’ve been “too fat” to do. I still swim, dance, walk, and bike actively. I can’t match the performance I had as an athletic teenager, but 20 years will do that to pretty much anyone.

      My main concern about my weight is that I’ve developed metabolic/endocrine problems recently. For me, health risks are the main motivation I have for trying to lose weight.

  3. I like this:

    One possible response, of course, is to decide that no obesity policy is
    possible, because ‘science is undecided’. But this is a moron’s answer: science is never completely decided; it is always in a state of change and self-questioning, and it offers no final answers. There is never a moment in science when all doubts are gone and all questions settled, which is why ‘wait for settled science’ is an argument advanced by industries that want no interference with their status quo.

    because you can replace “obesity” with other things, like “climate change”, and it would still be worth saying.  There are times when politics probably reacts too quickly/drastically to a scientific report, but those situations could probably be avoided if politicians waited for supporting evidence from other groups and were willing to reevaluate laws as the science progresses.

  4. Carbs are the problem but for four decades the government has been killing us with the lie that obesity is caused by fat intake. So long as people follow the government nutritional standards they will remain fat. To lose weight, cut the carbs and watch the fat melt off until you reach a new and more natural set point. You might not be “model thin” but you will be “normal” for your body type.  Gary Taubes’ books are the best place to start.

    1.  Yes, you can find plenty of people who will proselytize to you about how
      they’ve found the One True Obesogen — but in order to do that they have
      to ignore contradictory studies and studies that suggest there’s more
      than one thing going on.

    2. Carbs are great we’re told. Only what we aren’t told is that they are great for storage in warehouses, great for transporting, great for storing energy in long term without decaying as quickly as protein based food can.

      As a former athlete who was schooled in high carb usage I can vouch that when the cycling stopped for me and the carb centric diet carried on the weight problems kicked in. Not everyone has got time to exercise like an athlete to keep their weight down but they have got the option to cut out a huge chunk of their carb intake and replace them with something more helful.

  5. I don’t get why people say obesity isn’t solved. Quit eating highly toxic foods like wheat, corn, seed oils, refined sugars, and you’ll lose weight almost like magic. Seriously, go look up the Paleo diet, I know its been featured on Boing Boing before.

    I’ve gone from 340 pounds down to now 259 in about 10 months without increasing my exercise or decreasing the amount of food I eat.

      1. Based on this thread, stupidity seems to be a far bigger problem than obesity.

    1.  I think the reason drastic diety changes usually get results is simply because they are drastic changes. When you do such a diet you re-think everything you eat, and often simply wind up eating less. There’s no magic bullet, no single path.

  6. Or hey, look at all the time you spend on your arse in the car, and trade some of that for time on a bike.

    It’s more fun than driving; ride a nice enough bike and you’re driven to go hard by the fun reward. And depending on traffic and parking, it can be quicker and more convenient than driving.

    There isn’t one single other thing we could do that would be half as effective in improving public health, than encouraging utilitarian cycling.

    1. I have a friend who weighs nearly three hundred pounds and travels everywhere in a  powered scooter.  Back when I first met him, he was an avid cyclist, and thin as a rail.  Made a lot of speeches that sounded just like you.

      Then a guy in an SUV had a stroke while driving, veered into the bike lane, hit two other cars, and mashed my friend against a Jersey barrier.  

      It’s something of a wonder that he survived, and even more of a wonder that, after seven surgeries, he can walk short distances.  

      But he’s not having much luck with weight loss.

      Simple answers are… well, simple.

      1. The laws of thermodynamics are simple.

        If all else remains the same and the only variable to change is more people riding instead of driving, I’m not convinced in the slightest that obesity isn’t bound to decrease.

        Or what, fat is acausally manifesting out of thin air? It’s stored chemical energy that has to come from somewhere.

      1. Not to mention the sure knowledge that your date isn’t going to pay for your dinner.

    2.  A fat friend of mine cycles 13 miles round trip to work most days.  Simplistic answers are simplistic. (IOW, read the article.)

      1. My old boss, who was 5′-7″ and weighed 300+ lbs, took the stairs up and down from the 14th floor all the time. And she was less winded than me at 6′-2″ and 135. Go figure.

  7. Blah to it all.

    I think one of the larger issues with studying obesity is that science wants a single model for everyone.  I’m overweight being 5’10” around 205lbs.  And I know I don’t always make the best food choices, well it’s probably more often than not.  At the same time I know others who eat and eat, and eat crap on top of that, who all are probably below their normal weight range.  A co-worker of mine drinks at least 40oz of soda a day, a candy bar, breakfast, lunch, and whatever else for dinner (with probably a beer or two as well).  He is 5’8″ and maybe 130lbs.  It’s not just about calories in vs. calories out, it’s how the body is processing it.  There are hard and fast rules that work, like JonCarter said, cut the carbs and loose the fat.  But who is going to give up carbs the rest of their lives?

    Looking around at my peers I’d wager that 75% of the obese ones (30+ BMI) are due to diet alone.  But even fixing their diet is only going to take them so far.  I know for myself, and myself alone, that I can loose weight
    by cutting calories – typically 1800 or less a day with moderate exercise.  But with that nothing changes for me, I still have the same cravings just now I’m hungry all the time.  However if I do hard high intensity cardio (jogging to running) my body will change.  Now again this is specific for me.  Twice before I have managed to push myself into this different zone….it only takes six months of killing myself several times a week to get there though.  And I’m not talking about a lite jog, I have to be going hard enough to run out of breath, hard enough that it hurts.  But eventually my body stops craving sugar, it stops craving junk.  And here comes my problem:  I hate running.

    It’s not the act of running that I hate, it’s running for the sake of
    running.  For me it’s much like playing video games.  If I realize a game consists of mostly grinding and leveling and there isn’t really an ending I’ll loose interest quickly.  The same thing happens with exercise.  I can make all those noob gains but then it gets harder and harder to see results.  I mean, I don’t plan on running a marathon, how far do I have to take this?

    Yes I want to be thinner.
    Yes I am my own worst enemy.

    1. If you hate running (as I do), find a more goal-oriented activity.

      I´d recommend trying weightlifting. And by weightlifting I mean “training”, not “exercise”, i.e. lifting weights as heavy as you can, making them heavier over time. It is very goal-oriented and motivating, much more so than curling flyweights for 20 reps. Google for “Starting Strength” if you´re interested.
      And if you´re a lady don´t worry, you won´t get huge and muscular unless you take steroids. You´ll get strong, fit and healthy.

      Once you feel your body can handle it, try combining your weightlifting with another sport. In my case, it´s martial arts, but I guess it could be pretty much anything.

      And don´t think of all this in short term goals only. You can have those, but for real change it needs to become a lifestyle. You can learn to love the fact that there is always a higher goal to reach, that you´re never “finished” with getting better and stronger.

      1. I am a guy and I have read through Starting Strength.  I did get into weights for a while and liked it for the most part.  My flexibility is pretty bad so that kind of hindered some of my progress with the some of the lifts, but overall it wasn’t bad.  However weights didn’t really change how I felt or what I craved.  Well okay I did want more protein, but it didn’t curb any of my sugar/sweet cravings.  I think I have to tackle the cardio/endurance side of things reasonably well before I take weights back up again. But like I said before, that just my personal experience with things, and I don’t expect it to apply to others.

        1. “It’s not the act of running that I hate, it’s running for the sake of running.”

          This is why I HATE “exercise” of any kind. That being said, I found  I do like dance. It is hard to find a dance practice that isn’t pretty painful to deal with if you have body issues though. My first aerials class I almost left crying, not because anyone was unkind but because I was just so intimidated to even try. For me, not getting bored with things is a big issue, but actually that’s good for overall fitness because if you keep a rotation of different things you actually improve the whole instead of targeting just one thing (like weight loss, or muscle building).

          You may not actually like what I like. But I really suggest trying (and I mean scouring the earth) for physical things that you actually like doing and people who make you feel good while doing them.

          I was doing really well for a while until all my coworkers started getting on the gym kick and then suddenly it was a competition. I hate competing with people that way, and found myself making every excuse to never work out at the company gym. Plus everyone got into running, and I would absolutely and completely prefer to sit at my desk working without a break if it meant not running. Nothing seems more pointless and depressing to me because I *need* to be mentally engaged, but I also need to feel like it’s ok to not be great at something because I’m a terrible perfectionist so if I can’t do it well I kind of don’t want to do it (which is a great way to never get better).

        2. I don´t quite get why you say you have to concentrate on the things you claim to hate first, instead of getting serious about those you say you liked for the most part but have it your way.

      2. Hmm, it looks like perhaps your other message was eaten..hahaha.  To answer it anyway.

        It’s not that I dislike the activity of jogging/running, I dislike doing it for the sake of maintenance.  Plus the only way I found to do serious cardio and weight lifting was to do them on opposite days (at minimum).  So each takes a hit because you can’t do them as often (or as hard potentially).  Also, once you have the endurance the recovery time for doing weights should be less. 

        I mean right now you are talking to someone who’d take about 12 minutes to do a mile, and even that might be pushing it.

        1. I think I have been struck by the cold hand of the moderator. My comment was not ill-intended in case you thought of it that way.

          Rest time is very important and training hard every day is quite impossible for normal people. I can´t do it after training for two years now.
          When I started out I only did two days of training a week and tried to watch what I was eating. After a few months my body felt ready to do more, so I went up to three times, sometimes four.
          The body needs rest, in fact with weightlifting rest days are the times when it builds muscle.
          Weight lifting and cardio on opposite days is perfectly reasonable as well.
          There are people who can and do train hard every day, but those are professional athletes with nothing else to do.
          It´s also not required to completely exhaust yourself every single time, it´s more important to go out and do something with regularity.

          Like I said, try to see it as a constant journey to become a stronger, healthier version of yourself, not as a short-term weight loss project. The first 6 months or so are definitely the hardest in my experience, since you need to motivate yourself to go every single time. At some point I began looking forward to my next training session and now I couldn´t imagine life without them anymore.

  8. Hey! Cool- I don’t even need to read the article about all the complex things Maggie said were complex and sometimes contradictory, because commenters have explained that it’s just about getting your fat ass more exercise and not eating so many fat-people foods.  

  9. A lot of discussion about the “obesity crisis” likes to frame it as a sign of the moral decline of society. But it seems obvious to me that people, as a whole, aren’t any lazier or more gluttonous now than they were in the past. Human nature just doesn’t change that much.

    There are a whole bunch of different possibilities, many of which are discussed in the article. My pet hypothesis is car-centric cities — when you live in a place without sidewalks, where everything is spread miles apart along high-speed roads, you’re not going to get a lot of physical activity built into your daily routine. But I haven’t dug into the data to see whether populations are gaining weight even in places that aren’t car-centric. And I’m quite certain it’s not the whole story, anyway.

    But I am darn sure that the answer is not people as a whole becoming weaker-willed.

    Individual people can certainly make healthier choices. But the amount of time and effort it takes to make those changes — and whether individuals can sustain them — depend a lot on the structure of other parts of their lives.

    Like, it’s easier to exercise when you can commute on foot or by bicycle, rather than having to make a special gym trip every day. But that means you have to work in a walkable place, and be able to afford to live close enough to your job, and not have other priorities that pull you to live farther away (like a spouse’s job, or a child’s school district). There are lots of factors other than your personal self-discipline or determination.

    1. Maybe people are just as weak-willed and lazy as ever with more opportunities to act on it, i.e. cheap, high calorie food readily available and lots of indoor activities that don´t require physical exercise. Our car-centric society would also add to that, as I´m sure people 100 years ago would have gone by car as well, had cars been as ubiquitous as today.

        1. It certainly has something to do with being physically weak, be it obese or skinny-fat.

          1. I’m pretty fit now, thanks! Actually I do areal dance and ballet.

            I’m glad you admitted the link between laziness and fatness isn’t that great though.

            Now fitness, that’s different. But you didn’t say that did you?

            No, because you can’t tell how fit some one is as easily as you can tell how fat they are.

            But I see now you just like thinking you are harder working than everyone else. So I’ll just leave you to your bigotry :)

          2. Being lazy/sedentary will result in some form of physical deficiency. For some it will be obesity, for others being skinny-fat (as it was for me for most of my life until I grew weary of my own weakness). Both are about the same in terms of unhealthyness as far as I can tell.

            I´d say the link between laziness and fatness as a symptom and laziness and skinny-fatness as a symptom are equally strong, but like you wrote, one of them is easier to tell on sight.

            To be honest I don´t know what the point of your post is except calling me a bigot.

    2. The article touches on something but not in a 1st world kind of way.  My parents were raised on small farms, so they ate and worked like farm hands.  A moderate breakfast, a large lunch, and a small dinner – all while working on the farm.  (They of course went to school, so working after school during that time of the year.)  Now you could always throw things like HFCS into mix, but really they didn’t eat just fruits and veggies all day.  There was plenty of flour and fat to be found in everything.  While their lives weren’t quite as car centric as today, they certainly were more active just because of how they lived compared to many people today.

    3. “But it seems obvious to me that people, as a whole, aren’t any lazier or more gluttonous now than they were in the past”

      I think food (especially portion sizes) has gone crazy in the last 30 years. I remember when 7-11 came out with their first “Big Gulp”. It seemed impossibly huge, more than any human could drink. The original Big Gulp was 32oz. This would qualify it as a “medium” in many C-Stores and fast food joints today. Beyond portion sizes we have no set times to eat anymore. We eat while driving, while working, while watching TV.  I have colleagues who literally eat at their desks all day. People would not have done this in an office environment 30 years ago. Many, many people live their lives with a slow drip of calories coming into their system during their every waking hour. I know many people who live like this and all of them are fat.

  10. A PSA that I hope will not be deleted by moderators, but I understand if it is:

    I’ve been trying to eat mostly unprocessed (or minimally processed) foods that are both high in fiber and contain some water. (For example, oatmeal > bread or Cheerios.) I eat lots of fresh fruit and veg, lots of beans, a fair amount of whole grains like oatmeal, brown rice and quinoa, and minimal meat and dairy.

    I’m never hungry because the high fiber/water foods are the most filling. (More than protein!)

    I’ve lost 30 pounds so far, without exercising. Now I’m just starting to exercise to hurry the process along faster.

    I credit this–

    At the bottom of the page you can download their book as a free pdf, if you provide your email address. The organization that created the program/book is a non-profit Seventh Day Adventist group in Oklahoma (of all places!) that has the sole purpose of trying to help people be healthier. They do offer some paid services (which I’ve never used or even looked into) but the book and most of their website are free.

    I’m 34 and I’ve been OBESE my entire life. This is the first strategy I’ve tried that’s painless enough for me to stick with it. Hoping I’ll get a few years of non-obesity life in before I turn 40.

    1. Oatmeal is amazing. I have lost over 30 pounds by quitting soda and having a huge bowl of oatmeal for breakfast every morning. The oatmeal sticks with me until 1 or 2 pm and really helps me have a reasonable lunch. I eat whatever I want for dinner and cheat like crazy on the weekends but the weight keeps coming off.

      The other thing that has been a big help is occasional fasting. Fasting helped me learn the difference between actual hunger and cravings. 

    2. I’ve been trying to eat mostly unprocessed (or minimally processed) foods that are both high in fiber and contain some water. (For example, oatmeal > bread or Cheerios.) I eat lots of fresh fruit and veg, lots of beans, a fair amount of whole grains like oatmeal, brown rice and quinoa, and minimal meat and dairy. I’m never hungry because the high fiber/water foods are the most filling.

      You just described exactly what I typically eat, and I get completely different results than you: I get ravenously hungry 3-5 hours  after eating, when my blood sugar drops. Not only am I not losing any weight, I’ve recently gained a little weight (and I’m pretty sure it’s not muscle). I have some other metabolic issues that probably complicate matters, but my problem does not seem to be related so much to what I eat. As other commenters have pointed out, there is no one-size-fits-all solution that works for everyone.

      1. I didn’t mean to suggest that one solution would work for everyone. I apologize if I came off that way.

        I’m diabetic and am quite familiar with the insatiable urge to eat when blood sugar runs low! Really not a pleasant feeling.

        As I started losing the weight, I was getting more and more low bg reactions because my insulin resistance was decreasing.  I think I’ve gotten better at gauging how much insulin I’ll need, so that doesn’t happen as often.

        Metabolic issues suck. Hope things improve for you.

        1. Thanks. I think I owe you an apology, too. While we’ve been trying to figure out exactly what’s wrong with me, the one thing I keep hearing from doctors is that most of my health problems would improve if I just lost some weight. While I know that’s true, it’s also really frustrating because I feel like they’re focusing on my weight as the root cause of my health problems rather than as one of my symptoms (I gained about 10-15 pounds when my thyroid function decreased). I’m sorry that I took my frustration out on you.

          1. I have Hashi’s and cancer, and I really think the reason doctors have been so proactive with me is that I’m thin and young for these things. Other women with the same issues I have talked to have had their symptoms blown off by endocrinologists for up to 20 years.  Just saying this because if you feel like your endo focusing too much on weight as a cause and not a symptom… keep looking for recommendations for more proactive doctors. I was even blown off for a few years until I happened upon a more aggressive endo. I could have had my biopsy two years ago.

          2. No apology needed. It’s a very good point that everyone’s different. :)

            That sounds incredibly frustrating! I’m really lucky that I’ve found an endocrinologist that I like.

          3. ThankOliveGreenapple and cjporkchop for the support. I’ve been lucky enough to have finally found a good endocrinologist (thanks to whom my thyroid issues are finally being treated). Hopefully we can figure out just what’s going on.

  11. As far as I know, the obesity epidemic started in the 1970s (long after television, automobiles, Hershey bars, and fast food came into common use) and is strongest in the United States. By some coincidence, cyclamates were banned in the United States in the 1970s but not in many other industrial countries. Maybe, just maybe, the cyclamate ban played a role. (ObSF: Inferno by Niven and Pournelle.)

      1. How “fat” were you by today’s standards?  A kid that was 5’10” and 170 lbs was one of the 10% fattest kids in school in the 60’s. Today they’d be in the middle.  Heck you wouldn’t even see them in the herd of teenage heifers waddling through the mall.

  12. A professor at UC Santa Cruz, Julie Guthman, wrote a book on the severe limits to the terms of the obesity “debate” that came out last year, called “Weighing In.” Like Berreby, she discusses how contradictory thermodynamic theories of calories (which, by the way, are a measure of energy produced, not some piece of matter contained in food, like fats) turn out to be, especially given evidence from the past decades. She goes into much more detail on how chemicals in the environment and our food may be impacting how genes are expressed vis-a-vis our body compositions. Fascinating, if not terrifying stuff.

  13. Maybe obesity hasn’t been “solved” for the same reason homosexuality hasn’t been “solved”.  Because it’s not actually a problem, and other people’s bodies are none of your f*cking business.

    1. “Obesity is one of the leading preventable causes of death worldwide. Large-scale American and European studies have found that mortality risk is lowest at a BMI of 20–25 kg/m2 in non-smokers and at 24–27 kg/m2 in current smokers, with risk increasing along with changes in either direction. A BMI above 32 kg/m2 has been associated with a doubled mortality rate among women over a 16-year period. In the United States obesity is estimated to cause 111,909 to 365,000 deaths per year, while 1 million (7.7%) of deaths in Europe are attributed to excess weight. On average, obesity reduces life expectancy by six to seven years, a BMI of 30–35 kg/m2 reduces life expectancy by two to four years, while severe obesity (BMI > 40 kg/m2) reduces life expectancy by ten years.”

      Please find the whole, well-annotated text here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obesity

      And are you seriously equating obesity with homosexuality?

      1. Fat people are denied jobs, denied the right to adopt children, are told that they are diseased and that they are morally corrupt if they fail to try to “cure” themselves.  So yeah, I’m equating it to homosexuality.  

        The statistics on obesity-related illness are HIGHLY inflated.  I know this because I used to work in data collection for the WHO.  They changed the definition of obese to include millions of people who previously weren’t, and then they prioritized obesity as a co-morbidity above actual diseases like hypertension or asthma.  So rather than record true co-morbidities of actual medical problems, or even things like smoking or drinking, people in medical records are recording “obesity” instead. 

        If you’re so into resources, try some of these: http://corpolitical.tumblr.com/post/51253274193/truth-behind-fat-references-original-post-found

        1. Yeah, I messed up a blood test last year and ate too close to the morning of the test. So it came out with high blood sugar. Further tests revealed no signs of diabetes.   I have to get blood work regularly, so it would have shown up before or after. Plus I’m pretty sure I messed up the timing of supper that night.
          HOWEVER, that didn’t stop the nurse from helpfully telling me I could make myself healthier by losing just 30% of my body weight.She clearly had not read my chart. I asked her how healthy she would think a patient was who came in at 5’10” and 82 lbs. Because that’s what 30% less weight would be for me.She equivocated, something something, still could lose weight to reverse prediabetes.In other words, assuming I actually had developed LAD or insulin resistance, the common knowledge that you get diabetes from being fat is so entrenched even people in the health professions are just not *thinking* some times.

        2. So equating a sexual orientation to a physical condition makes sense as long as both are in some way opressed? I disagree.

          As for the rest of your post: I am not an expert, so between the items you and I have linked to as well as the link in the original article by Maggie I can´t really argue soundly which are more trustworthy.

          Living in a country with a functional healthcare system, an “obesity epidemic” would actually be a concern of national economics.
          If the numbers are really as inflated as you claim (which would make the original article as well as similar ones redundant) then yes, obesity wouldn´t be as much of an economic concern and therefore nobody´s concern but the parties involved.

      2. I agree with Mudshark 100%.

         Haven’t you heard about the skyrocketing rates of HIV among homosexual men in the nineteen-eighties? Just imagine how much good all those men could’ve done for the public health system if they all just committed to being less gay.

  14. All of this searching for the “real cause of obesity” is just an excersise in political correctness. If there was some mysterious unknown cause of obesity, we would be seeing lots of people who eat reasonably and excercise but are still, inexplicably overweight right? People who are obese are not mystified as to why they are obese. Crappy food is hard to resisit and is available everywhere. It’s hard to quit eating crappy food just like it’s hard to quit smoking. Once you decide that being healthy will bring you more pleasure than eating a pint of Cherry Garcia every night before bed, the rest will take care of itself.

    1. Actually there’s a lot more going on, which is why obesity isn’t evenly dispersed across the society. The “real cause” is probably more like the “cure for cancer” in that there isn’t a single factor… like just being lazy.

      Plus I’m really becoming certain using the term “Political Correctness” is on the same level as “I’m not a racist, but…”

      1. I know what you mean about the term political correctness but I think it applies in this situation. Obesity is so common these days that if we are not obese ourselves, we surely have  friends,  relatives and coworkers that are. It’s so much easier to say that these people we know or love are obese through no fault of their own. There is also a pretty active pro-fat lobby pushing the idea that being obese is totally normal and healthy and should be celebrated. Other groups are working hard to make fat the new gay or black or handicapped. We all know that in the vast majority of cases being obese is simply a highly visible consequence of a person’s life choices.

        1. I actually *don’t* know an obese person who is just lazy. I really don’t. The ones I know work out more than me and starve themselves to the point of physical illness and still are a bit chubby. Then there’s the layers of psychological problems from the whole thing. So, no, I just don’t see it that way.

          I’ve always been thin. I’ve watched what I eat some times, and other times I have eaten entire boxes of cookies, rich desserts, steaks, for months on end. 
          My ex roommate and I ate pretty much the same things, but she worked out a lot more. She was fat, and I never was. I couldn’t keep up with her when jogging because I was weak from never exercising, but I never put on weight and she never lost it.

          My biggest weight gains or losses have been 10 to 20 lbs. Ever. Even after my thyroid started to die (hypo not hyper).

          I have a sedentary job, hate the outdoors, and until recently never worked out at all.

          Yet my cholesterol is good, my heart is healthy. I don’t think you can ignore that there are just some plain differences here.

          Plus there is the simple fact that once you become obese your body changes, which makes it harder to lose weight.

          I have actually had a relative with cancer and colon disease be complimented on her rapid weight loss (by people who know that it is because of extreme illness). 

          That’s not ok, and it’s not being PC to say that. When some one is near death and people think “well at least you aren’t a fatty” then there’s something really wrong.

          1. I actually *don’t* know an obese person who is just lazy. I really
            don’t. The ones I know work out more than me and starve themselves to
            the point of physical illness and still are a bit chubby.

            Unfortunately, most people “work out” in an ineffective way, like spending hours on a treadmill while reading a book or watching TV.

            Starving yourself that way is never going to accomplish anything either, it just makes your body weak and sick.

            Also, “a bit chubby”, as unprecise a term as it is, should be far from obesity and all the health problems associated with it.

          2. You seem really invested in believing all fat people are lazy. Doesn’t that seem problematic to you?

          3. I didn´t write “all fat people”, I wrote “most people”. You seem really invested in making me out to be some kind of “fat-hater”.

          4. i reject that.

            fat has to come from somewhere.  if they really are starving themselves, they CAN’T be fat.  period.

            the insidious thing that occludes the real factors at play is that eating is something we all do from birth… we grow up eating a certain way and we consider that “normal”.  we’re not even exposed to different points of reference on this until later in life.

            but YOUR normal is not the same as a fat person’s normal.  and therein lies the issue.  the reason why everyone can say “they eat normally” but one is thin and another is ginormous.

            eating is relatively private and we have too much insulation from other points of reference.

            honestly, if you track a fat person throughout a week and they’re “starving themselves” and they’re not losing weight, they’re eating like mad when they get home.

            thermodynamics and bloomberg is right – fat isn’t MAGIC!  if you’re not taking in more calories than you’re burning, it would HAVE to be.  where else would it come from?  just the MATERIAL itself has to come from somewhere?  are they sucking it into their skin from the air?

            it’s all JUST caloric intake.  that’s it.

            take you for example.  take your average daily calories and multiply by 12.  that’s about how much you will weigh.

    2. Did you even read the article? If you did, you would have been aware that several species of animals (including laboratory animals) have also been getting fatter along with humans:

      “In fact, lab animals’ lives are so precisely watched and measured that the researchers can rule out accidental human influence: records show those creatures gained weight over decades without any significant change in their diet or activities. Obviously, if animals are getting heavier along with us, it can’t just be that they’re eating more Snickers bars and driving to work most days. On the contrary, the trend suggests some widely shared cause, beyond the control of individuals, which is contributing to obesity across many species.”

      1. To be fair, the article states that there are other factors for obesity besides a sedentary lifestyle and bad diet, not that they have been disproven as factors.

    3. This sounds remarkably like a faith-based statement from someone who’s afraid to be challenged. You aren’t really discussing anything, you’re just repeating an assertion, one that has been addressed remarkably well by the article, and cranking up the snark. It may be comforting to you, but it’s not really convincing.

      1. Well, gee I guess you got me. As I look across the office at my 300+ pound colleague who arrived for work with 2 bagels and a huge Starbucks Frappuccino (pretty much a quart of melted ice cream), ate a bag of popcorn mid morning and came back from lunch with another Frappuccino I can only hope this mystery force that is making her fat is discovered before it’s too late. 

  15. We used to have candy but not so much “snack food.”   If you were eating junk food, it was actual candy.

    Reading old outdoors stories, kids used to go out for a day in the woods with potato wrapped in wax paper.  Today they drive somewhere and eat 1,500 calories of fast food.  

  16. This is a great article. I really enjoyed learning about the whole Geoffrey Miller debacle. It’s amazing to me that even a person so well educated in the field of psychology can be so blind as to the way they stigmatize others.

    On a personal note, since we’re all sharing: I’m 5’8″ and two-hundred pounds. So I’m overweight, but not terribly. Look at my diet however, and you’d be shocked.

    I guarantee you: the massive amounts of cheese, carbs and meat that I consume (all liberally coated with salt and ranch dressing), combined with my drinking and smoking habits and an almost total lack of aerobic exercise, would literally KILL ninety-percent of people who tried to emulate it.

  17. It was SOLVED years ago- when you consume more calories than you burn, you get fat. When you sit, snack, eat high-sugar, high-fat, don’t exercise, you get fat. Obesity is a choice, not a “disease”. Jock-itch is a disease. Athlete’s foot is a disease. Obesity- personal choices……. 

  18. Not only are the people in my family long lived, they eem to have married people who are equally long lived.  My uncle (by marriage) is in his eighties, has always been fat, always smoked cigars, still bouncing along.  We all know someone like that. 

  19. I gained around 20kg (44 pounds) in the last year. I was at 68kg (150 pounds), now I’m slightly below 90kg (200 pounds) – as a 20 year old woman of 1.68m (5’5″). The thing is, I have depression. Not only is it way harder to a. exercise when you can barely leave the bed, or b. eat healthier when the only thing that gets you through the day is the thought of something really tasty in the evening, but also many anti-depressants actually make you gain weight. So now I inhabit a body I hate and that makes me have breakdowns when I look in the mirror too long, but at least I don’t kill myself. I’d love to lose weight. I really do. But when you say “fat people are lazy” that’s just a lie you tell yourself because you think you’re better (or, well, worse, if you’re fat yourself); and when you say “just exercise – calories in, calories out, duh” you’re doing the exact same thing. Don’t presume to know. You don’t.

  20. you know what would have been better than polling the calories animals eat?

    POLLING THE CALORIES FAT PEOPLE EAT!  why didn’t they just do THAT???!?!

    honestly, for every fat person out there, just HONESTLY count the amount of calories that you’re eating.  it WILL be more than you “should” eat (ideal weight X 12).  take the number of calories consumed per day and divide that by 12 and you get what you see on the scale.

    that article is so misguided and it’s soooo infuriating to see this issue get obfuscated again and again and again.

    bloomberg (AND THERMODYNAMICS GODDAMMIT!) is right!

    you can’t gain weight out of “FAT AIR”!!!  it’s like insisting that a box is full of more stuff than you put into it… HOW???!?!

    for the people denying thermodynamics (for fuck’s sake?!), WHERE IS THE STUFF COMING FROM?!?!?!

    extremely simple principles are at play:

    – you have a RESTING METABOLISM – the calories (fuel) that your body must use to simply keep you ALIVE… even if you don’t play for the NBA.

    – if you eat the amount of calories that your body burns to keep you alive, then you will hit and stay at your healthy weight.  for most people, this is your IDEAL WEIGHT X 12 = amount of calories you can eat in a day.

    – if you eat MORE than your burn, the calories are stored as fat.

    THAT’S IT!  no carbs vs. fats vs. protein whatever… all of that kind of niggling might come into play for elite athletes trying to drop their body fat to 2% or something but it has nothing to do with just lowering your weight.

    even exercise doesn’t move the needle that much.  ever see those charts with how many hours you have to run or do jumping jacks to burn 100 calories?  vs. how easy it is to consume 100 calories?  it’s mostly about consumption.

    no matter what hormones or chemicals or whatever is being injected into food, the bottom line is that you can’t lay bricks without bricks!  even if you have a billion eager brick layers primed to do it, they have to have MATERIAL.  and if you don’t put in more material than you burn, then you will get to a healthy weight.

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