Articles about fat are everywhere right now; Time Magazine recently asked Why Are Southerners So Fat? Claire Suddath suggested a combination of factors, including poverty, lack of exercise, crappy public transit, lousy urban design, unhealthy diet and oppressive heat. Good points all; she compares Mississipi to Colorado, the skinniest state, and notes that it is relatively affluent, has a temperate climate and a recreational infrastructure.
In the New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert asks the same question in her review of two new books on the subject.She wonders why the obesity rate has exploded, and calls it a "a mystery batter-dipped in an enigma." One book, "The Evolution of Obesity" by Michael L. Power and Jay Schulkin, says it is evolution; our brains tell our bodies that fat is good, high quality storage of energy that we can carry with us wherever we go.
"The Fattening of America" by Eric Finkelstein and Laurie Zuckerman picks up on the price of food.
"For most people, an ice cold Coca-Cola used to be a treat reserved for special occasions," Finkelstein observes. Today, soft drinks account for about seven per cent of all the calories ingested in the United States, making them "the number one food consumed in the American diet." If, instead of sweetened beverages, the average American drank water, Finkelstein calculates, he or she would weigh fifteen pounds less.
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Derek Thompson picks up on Kolbert in the Atlantic, reminds us of this graph from the New York Times that displays how prices have changed, and notes "Our evolutionary instinct to maximize caloric intake befriends our economic instinct to buy cheap." He also points us to a disgusting website called This is why you're fat.
TreeHugger has been looking at this issue for a while; we round up some of the posts we have written on the subject.
Where You Live Makes You Fat.
The Recession Makes You Fat.
You don't see a lot of obesity in pictures from the Depression. But over at Planet Green, Kelly quotes a woman who is changing her shopping habits:
"If I buy four litres of milk it's costing me almost $7.00 but if I can go buy two-litre bottles of Coca Cola, it's going to cost me two and change. That's a problem that I have... ."
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Suburbs Make You Fat.
Researchers are finding that suburban dwellers are significantly fatter than their urban counterparts, primarily because they drive everywhere, even to the fitness club.
"In a livable city, it should be possible and pleasant to reach restaurants, shops and entertainment on foot. Those who insist on riding bicycles should be able to do so safely and find bike racks on every street. An efficient subway or light-rail system not only makes it cheap and easy to get around town while legally drunk, it also provides more walking opportunities from home to station and station to destination."
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Architecture Makes You Fat.
A stair that you want to use
Tim Townshend, a Newcastle academic and former town planner, is one of those suggesting that our public spaces - our cities, suburbs, shopping centres - are enforcing a culture that consumes energy without expending it, encouraging inactivity and poor eating habits. One of Townshend's more frivolous suggestions is that we make stairwells a more attractive option by fitting them with piped music (although it's this, arguably, that made lifts loathsome in the first place)."
That, besides the number of gyms and liposuction clinics, is why New Yorkers are skinny compared to the nation as a whole. "In very dense urban environments, you get local shops and facilities mixed up together," says Townshend. "People tend to use those more. There's an awful lot more walking involved, just because of the inconvenience of driving." High-density housing, in other words, can help create what is known in the trade as the "eco-slob" effect, whereby the healthy, environmentally friendly option is also the path of least resistance."