Are Americans fat?

“It’s tragic. Obesity has got to be job number one for us in terms of chronic diseases.”

Dr. Julie Gerberding, Director, Center for Disease Control


In its fantasy life America is thin. Tom, Julia, Brad and Angelina are all thin. Cosmo Girl is oh so thin. Even ‘reality’ TV contestants are mostly thin, except for one show about people trying to become thin. But check out the places where regular Americans go, like Vegas and Disneyland. Suddenly it’s a Homer Simpson world of spilling tummies, wobbly posteriors and legs borrowed from elephants.

Bad-mouthers say that the real America is fat, dumb and happy. Fatness, they suggest, stands for greed, a lack of self-control, over-stuffed people addicted to consuming. But before we react to the symbolism, what do the facts say?

The Evidence

Source: OECD Health Data, 2004
  • The majority of American adults are indeed overweight. Nearly a third are obese. A person who is five feet nine inches tall would normally weight around 145 pounds. Add fifty pounds of excess fat and you are obese. Resulting heart and liver problems cost the U.S. $100 billion a year in medical bills, 1% of GDP. The problem is growing throughout the wealthy West, but yes, more Americans are fat than any other nationality.
  • In total, one hundred thousand Americans will expire this year due to obesity, says the CDC. At Goliath Caskets in Indiana, sales are booming of 44-inch triple-wide coffins that accommodate 700-pounders.



Consuming more, burning less
We become fat people when we take on board more calories than we burn off in activity, and these days, this calorie equation has become seriously unbalanced. No wonder most American best-sellers are diet books.

But… America isn’t particularly abnormal. The less obese French, Germans and Italians eat almost as many calories as Americans. These Europeans consume even more fat per day - think foie gras, sausage and gelato. And while a quarter of Americans manage no physical activity at all, over a third of British adults are just as slothful. As for the blame game – too much television, desk jobs, cities that cater to cars not pedestrians - none of this is uniquely American either. The United States is fattest because fast-food diets and sedentary lifestyles emerged here first. American girths have been expanding for longer.

Obesity is not a lifestyle choice. It’s a costly problem. But for our purposes, plumpness is a handy metaphor for the broader America. In the minus column is greed - a country that doesn’t know when to stop. On the positive side, fat represents bounty, jolliness and generosity – a country that knows how to put dinner on the table and, what’s more, offer endless second helpings. As we will see frequently in this survey, the real America is rarely all good or all bad. It’s usually both at once.

39 Comments:

Anonymous WEC said...

Maybe obesity is not a metaphor. To paraphrase Freud, sometimes fat is just fat. Just because I like fries (double size that please) doesn't mean that Americans are greedy or generous. Maybe it says more about the success of the fast food industry and their marketing and organizational skills....and these fast food companies are becoming global players. We'll see what happens to those thin French ladies when McDonalds is through with their Euro rollout.

12:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now you've got me thinking. I really enjoy this blog, I'll definitely pop around more often, keep it up!

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7:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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8:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wec is right on this one. Eating is now a huge industry and very, very few Americans have many meals cooked from scratch at home. This hasn't got a thing to do with greed. Almost all families with two parents find them both working and as a rule household help isn't available. To that we find very high costs for food from supermarkets so the fast food folks are offering us quick and often less expensive food -- even though it's made up of sugar and fat and not obviously good for us.

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Anonymous AJ said...

Americans are getting fatter but has anyone noticed that clothes are getting smaller. Is this part of the denial?

Sizes today are not what they used to be just a couple of years ago. Who's with me on this one?

It seems all the clothes today are made for Ryan Seacrest as well as the MySpace crowd.

11:04 PM  
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Blogger Alan S said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:13 PM  
Blogger Alan S said...

Its pretty simple really. We are fat because we eat carbs. Cut the carbs eat more FAT, yes lots of ANIMAL FAT and green veg and the weight will fall off.

All calories are not created equally and the logic that 'burning more calories than you eat will result in weight loss' doesn't add up. Because if you eat calories that trigger fat storage through insulin production (i.e. Carbs) then you could be the best dieter in the world but your body will store those calories as fat.

The opposite can be said for eating a Palaeolithic diet. This promotes ketosis which allows anyone to east in excess of the calories they are supposed to eat, but still lose weight. Before anyone mentions Ketosis I will clarify. Ketosis is NOT to be confused with Ketoacidosis, two completely different things but has often been used to vilify a diet that promotes ketosis.

A good free resource to learn more is www.dietdoctor.com/lchf
LCHF stands for Low Card High Fat.

12:22 PM  
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