Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A bucket of coke and a better built house: Fat America

A fantastic new book out, the Fattening of America attempts to get a real headlock on the hard questions as to why and how Americans have become so alarmingly obese. This is the first book I've read that takes a moment to ask a question most books gloss right over: Is a big Fat America a bad thing?

In the book, Eric Finkelstein, a health economist argues that our economy, with its massive increase in productivity through technology, has predisposed us to gaining weight. Our jobs have become more and more sedentary and new medical technology has overall lowered the risk of carrying a few extra or a few dozen extra pounds. The power saw and mechanical lifts have preserved the backs and knees of our construction workforce, but it also allowed them to get chubbed and diabetic. At the same time, our accelerated productivity has made things cheaper and more accessible to the bulk (no pun intended) of the population.

This book also intersects with an intriguing study out this week about how living longer is more expensive than being fat. For many years people have laid into the argument that being obese, and as such being more vulnerable to a host of metabolic diseases is a drain on the health care system. Indeed it seems a healthy individual with a longer life span will have a greater financial impact on government run and private health care than any group of obese individuals could do so.

Clearly in the end there's a lot of non-salient factors such as one's happiness, the impact of obesity on relatives and discrimination and social perception of obesity that aren't well covered here, but this book is truly the first in its field to crack open a lot of stronghold notions that have since gone unchallenged.

1 comment:

Peg Dae said...

I suspected sedentary work had a lot to do with obesity. If you look at the Europeans, though, they have also gone to sedentary work, yet they are more fit people. They do, however, do much more walking and biking than the average American.

The United States seems to have an obsession with eating and it is, in fact, big business.

I found it interesting how the studies showed that a thin person would end up costing the government more over their lifetime. Perhaps fat is a way to reduce the expenditures of this country. Not a nice choice--trying to kill people off by encouraging fatness seems wrong.

Each person needs to make their own decisions. For me, I'll continue to work on costing the government as much as I can so I can be around as long as I can for my grandson.