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Monday, September 20. 2010
I plan to pose a number of questions to our readers this week because I have some talks to give on Saturday and would love some fresh ideas.
I hope our brainy and learned readers will rise to the occasion.
First, why are so many American middle-class and poor people (especially women) fat or overweight, while wealthier and better-educated women tend to be svelte?
Got a theory? Is it really class-related, or is that coincidence? Or is it a matter of fashion, wherein some social groups are just more accepting of fat? Some guys do prefer fat girls.
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1. Low-fat food that doesn't taste like crap is expensive and/or takes more effort to prepare.
2. Exercise takes time and motivation.
3. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle takes discipline.
Laziness? Middle class women, who have to do pretty much everything themselves instead of having nannies, housekeepers, cooks, etc., are lazier than wealtheir women?
I think not.
My guess is much of it is just that . . . wealthy women, some of who are not more educated, but just married well . . . have a lot more free time on their hands to work out and more choices when it comes to eating right. Middle-class women, some of who work outside the home and also take care of a house and family, have much less free time and money to join a gym and watch those calories, which isn't that easy when you have a food budget that doesn't allow for healthy items all the time.
It's not class-related, it's money related.
1) Impulse control. Fatties are emotional eaters. The easiest satisfaction in the modern economy is a satiating meal. The poor have worse of everything, but they can feel like winners by stuffing themselves.
2) Mindless eating. The poor can’t afford so many other distractions, and sitting at home in front of the tube lends itself to constant snacking. I do not see this quite the same as lazy. Even the working poor, who might put in over forty hours, probably tend to plop down and munch during their off hours.
Better affordable choices are available, but the poor prefer to spend on things that numb them.
3) And I am a recent believer in the structural problem of the Standard American Diet. All the anti-fat hysteria has led us to more carbs. More carbs means more insulin. More insulin means more fat storage.
It takes a conscious effort against the popular wisdom, which the poor probably have less spirit for, to avoid the carb-loading. Poor shoppers might well think they’re making healthy choices by picking low-fat stuff and cereal grains. From what I see in shopping carts, the official nutrition message is getting through to the poor. But that message is wrong.
1) wrong, for most of them. And a highly elitist idea of course that wealthier people somehow are superior in that they can "control themselves" better.
2) wrong, in part. Might be something to it, if many of them were able to afford the amounts of food it would take. And see above, same elitist crap.
3) probably correct, at least in part. But low income people can't afford diet foods, low fat versions, etc.
- "health food" isn't healthy.
- high fat and high carb foods are generally cheaper than healthier alternatives (and usually tastier too without expensive addon spicing and sauce).
- gyms, personal trainers, and stores selling all the stuff you supposedly need to lead a healthy life are very expensive. They're also full of the above mentioned elitist crap, making even middle income people and anyone who already is even the slightest bit overweight feel decidedly unwelcome.
I can fill a supermarket shopping cart for $50 of low quality but filling food, or $200 of diet food that leaves you feeling hungry but (if you're into the "correct" mindset) good about yourself for eating diet food.
Now, everyone gets told to eat X amount of this and that per day.
But those numbers are ever more based on ultra lean meat, vegetables grown in greenhouses that are mostly water, and diet soda.
Eat the same volume or weight in foods that low income people can afford, and you end up ingesting far more calories.
Combine that with a culture where low income (and overweight anyone without very deep pockets) is shunned and ridiculed if they try to work out, and there's no way for them to burn those calories.
I'm overweight, I try to do something about it, a dietician would tell me to stop bothering them and just eat less (yes, had that happen).
Try to find a tracksuit or other comfortable clothes for a workout (say, just running around the block a few times even) and you'll find it next to impossible to find any. Many stores won't carry such clothes (or tools, if any are needed for what you want to do) in sizes larger than M or L, and if you're overweight you're looking at XL or larger.
And the looks and ridicule you encounter going into a sports store are not something that encourages you to ask staff to help you either.
And society is getting ever more hostile to those who're not anorexic, to the point where some are now calling for locking us all up for "crimes against society and nature" because we "consume more than our fair share of natural resources".
That makes us even less likely to try to talk to people, get some assistence.
And of course there's a very large group where diet has little to do with it.
Metabolism is highly variable across people, some just have a tendency to burn more calories than others even just sitting down.
My father several years ago was in hospital and gained weight, a lot. He was put on a starvation diet and still gained weight.
Rather than look at what was happening, the dieticians and doctors accused him of running to the hospital gift shop for candy and cookies when they weren't looking. Except he had 2 IV drips and a cathether in his bladder, so couldn't leave his bed, but that was irrelevant because of their preconception that he MUST be eating "illegal food" or he'd not gain weight.
I think this happens on many dimensions and that it would be very tough to tease out the ranking of causation.
Laziness is certainly a cause. Laziness in the sense that our poor as so wealthy that there are not working from dawn to dusk just to feed themselves. But it's not because they are not excercising.
Does anyone think that people, on any wide scale basis, used to excercise to maintain their weight in the past? I bet that recreational excercise didn't hit the mainstream until the late 70's. The only gym's around were mostly for boxing. There weren't adult sports leagues anywhere like now. I'm almost 50 and play hockey in an organized league in Dallas, Texas. Up until 20 years ago, there were only two sheets of ice in the whole area. Now I bet there are 40.
Class is certainly a factor. Take a look at the people who shop at WalMart versus those at Neiman's. There certainly seems to be a portion of our society that tolerates hefty people more than other sectors. I bet you could see this variance through certain church communities too. I bet rural Evangelical congregations are heavier than wealthy urban mainline church congregations.
Finally, there is economics. You will always get more of something that is subsidized. It is clear to me that our government subsidizes the production of bad calories. Or, at least, calories that make it more difficult to remain thin.
My own bias is that the subsidization of corn and such started making people fat, then came the acceptance of fatness. It is much easier to accept fatness when you are fat and look around and see many others that are fatties too.
Another subsidization that didn't really take off until the 60's is medicine. If people had to foot the entire cost of their own healthcare, I don't think they would be as heavy. Replacement of knees and hips has become routine. I don't think anybody saves for that expense.
Remember that series of color photos from the 40's? There were a couple of them posted here. You didn't see fat people in those pictures.
So I come down mostly on perverse economic incentives as the highest ranking cause of obesity.
The real question for me is why do wealthy people remain thin? What are they signalling? I'll run off the rails here and claim that those on the left, particularly the vocal left, are thinner than those on the right. Why don't those that advocate the subsidies take more advantage of them, and thereby gain weight? Is that observation on my part wrong?
Since I think obesity has largely been caused by governmental distortion of the market, don't expect it to be fixed by anything the government does.
I agree with Mike that tolerance is a major factor. As certain groups increase their population of fatties, the condition obtains greater acceptance within the group. Greater acceptance leads to greater comfort for members of the group to make the easier choices about food. This circumstance is not always confined to poor people. In certain areas of the Midwest one can find plenty of well-off folks of the very large variety putting away mega-calories at the local Bob Evans. A chubby CEO is a possibility in Cincinnati but pretty unlikely in Palo Alto.
One reason for the apparent socio-economic difference may be that one segment tends to abdicate personal commitment in favor of a vicarious life where the other segment is individually involved. One group buys those magazines at the grocery store checkout counter which allow them to view life through the lives of others while another group buys the self improvement magazines at another counter to improve their own lives. One group goes to ball games and races to see other people excel while the alternate group engages in activities such as golf or tennis for self satisfaction. The latter group is probably more likely to achieve economic success than the former.
Are you for real?
People who watch professional sports "live vicariously" and are more likely to be fat???
Tell that to Bird Dog, who spent his Labor Day weekend at the U.S. Open. Tell that to skinny old me, who has been watching Tiger Woods play golf for nearly 20 years.
If more than a small handful of American men preferred fat women, it would be reflected throughout television and magazine advertising.
Acceptance of obese women is largely cultural. Many Hispanic men tend to favor fat women. Many German men prefer the rounded, doughy look, while American men tend to prefer a more angular, athletic look.
It is mostly about diet. Cheap, easy to prepare foods that make up the majority of the diet of the poor and middle class (especially households with two working parents) is high in carbohydrates (especially the 'bad' types like sugars, starches, etc). This is the biggest cause of obesity. Wealthier people tend to each more fresh fruit and vegetables (they have time and money to prepare or people who prepare it for them). That is way low carb diets tend to be the best for weightloss. You can't stay thin eating boxed mac&cheese and hamburger helper or by eating out a couple of times a week...
bob, you are exactly right. This is exacerbated by the sainted "Food Pyramid", sponsored by Your Government, with carb rich food at the bottom (highest volume) and and low carb items at the top (lowest volume). Food stamps promote obesity as well.
I used to be active---chasing three sons, but the dieting and gaining it back seemed more harmful than just staying fat. Then I fell during an exercise jaunt around the block. My back hurts a lot. And here in Texas where the summer temps do not even dip below eighty degrees---it is easy to talk myself out of exercising. And going to the doctor for a sore throat, for example, and being told I am fat---like I had not noticed, does not help. I figure I just need to eat less and exercise more. We eat just cereal for supper most nights.
I would say it is more about status and drive. It takes a lot of discipline to stay focused on climbing status hierarchies. Being thin and rich and beautiful are opiates to the lives of the status hungry.
Bingo! We got a winner.
Add to that status conscious men, who will kick a fat woman out and pursue a trophy wife more suitable to his status. Reward + fear = motivation.
I would also like to add that I think that the lower/middle class fatties might get to the point where they tell themselves that this is how they are supposed to be, and make no effort to change. Changing lifestyles is hard work...lazy people don't like hard work. I'm from Wisconsin, and laughed my ass off at that Family Guy episode where Peter says that fat people have WI as their sanctuary! I guess anybody could get fat when you spend the cold dark winter sucking down PBR and cheese curds.
You eat the way you are taught to eat. My family was middle class (I am in my 40s); my mother's parents were farmers and so my mother, who had 6 children and worked full time as a head nurse (yes, she did) had a big vegetable garden in our backyard. We ate off that in the summer, and she canned or froze everyting she could -- tomatoes, peachers, pears, etc.
We ate dinner around the table every night - attendance was required until you were old enough to get an after-school job. We ate McDonald's maybe twice a year. The idea of a jarred spaghetti sauce or instant potatoes was foreign.
Yes, we ate our share of potato chips, cheese curls and candy. But we grew up eating basically fresh, homecooked food, we still eat that way, and we are all healthy and medium weight.
I find the news about genetic effects of adnovirus 36 interesting, in this topic. There has long been supposition about a viral cause and effect of this epidemic. Now we see the beginnings of hard science on the subject.
I saw the link below in the WaPo this morning. I wonder if maybe the poorer people didn't get proper medical care.
Could a childhood infection trigger obesity?
But in truth surely you know about genotypes. The genes that create the tall, slender ones as well as the ones I come from, the shorter ones with tummies and hips. I am not overweight, (not much anyway!) I see a lot of Hispanics and French and (middle Europeans?), with flat stomachs, flat hips and overly large breasts, particularly as they get older and fatter.
I am speaking of the female genotypes.
Since I was born in 1928, I can tell you from personal observation that there were lots fewer fat people back in the 1930s and 1940s. Part of it was due, i think, to the fact that we did considerably more walking to nearby destinations than folks do now. Since I've always been a book addict even below the age of ten, my mother made me promise that if I wanted to read five [or more than five!] books a week, I would have to walk to the local library, a distance of about two miles, and back, carrying my books, rather than take the bus. This forced me to realize that walking can be a contemplative pleasure, and until arthritis finally sidelined me in my 70s, I continued to walk and think at the same time.
Another big factor is that today's young children sit and watch TV and play computer games rather than go outside and explore and play. They get in the habit of doing this and they become sedentary creatures very early in life. Harried parents use TV and computers as technological baby-sitters.
Another, not well recognized cause is the American addiction to carbonated drinks. Whether it's Diet Pepsi or regular Pepsi, it's going to make you fat, I think.
The other Big Deception is the "low-fat" deception. Grocery stores sell shelves and shelves worth of so-called "low-fat" foods, up to and including "low-Fat" Half and Half. Now, I ask you ... Half and Half is supposed to be half whole milk and half cream. How on earth can that be low-fat? It's a con game -- like "organic" foods. If the food wasn't organic, our bodies couldn't absorb it. But people fall for that 'con' all the time. They pay extra because the farmers who raised the vegetables and meats were too cheap to use pesticides -- not always, of course, but I do feel that sometimes this is true and most of us are credulous creatures.
I wonder what Americans will look like 100 years from now.
Re the tv watching, drink guzzling, snack eating children of today.
I visited with a baby last week who is one year old, undersized, but.... How long will that last.?
They start them on snacks now, baby snacks. Supposedly low fat. The ones she had were freeze dried yogurt the size of chocolate chips. I was horrified. I thought next will be the real chips.
This child is not able to walk, she will be but she had hip displasia
and it will take physical therapy to get her walking, she is close but not yet.
I would love to be walking more but I just had knee replacement surgery. I have lost, not gained so walking is not the only component of weight gain or loss.
To Marianne's point about walking ..... I know it is considered hokey to invoke the point about walking a mile each way to school each day, but we did, from grades 6 through 12. That was 2 miles of walking each day right off the top.
Grade school was a little closer, maybe half a mile.
It's an EVOLUTIONARY adaptation!
Most species of animals will put on fat during the flush years to build survival advantage during lean times. Hunger has always been a real threat and people with some fat on them have a better chance of making it through times of no food.
Most people still know that in their bones - hard times WILL come again. The really rich can talk themselves into believing that it can't happen to them. Plus for really affluent women, their threat is to be replaced by a younger woman, one naturally earlier on the fattening curve.
Thorstein Veblen had an interesting take on rich and thin women of the "Leisure Class" today versus in yesteryears. Plump wives USED to be a status symbol for the upper orders but with assurity of food supplier, one can top that by displaying food security and having a THIN wife.
Here's the deal - American women are eating 3,000 plus calories a day on average (just read this somewhere reliable). I am told constantly that I must have "good genes" to weigh what I weigh. No. I don't eat as much as I would like. I live at the top of a hill and walk it briskly at least once a day. Anyone can be thin or within normal weight ranges. It takes time to exercise and it takes being able to deal with not eating when stressed or bored. Multiply your desired weight by 10-15 and that's your calorie intake for maintenance. The question is whether being thin is worth this discipline. I have a lot of fat friends who are not unhappy and not unloved by their spouses. My brother, raised in the same affluent, slim parented household, now weighs 300 pounds and doesn't seem to give a rip about it.
Missy I think you are ABSOLUTELY right.
Unless you are quite active (which most of us are NOT) as an adult you need far less calories than you think. People simply eat/drink too many calories per day. And they don't work it off. Very simple.
Now, the ladies I know do differ from each other, but in general they are thin (these are upper-middle-class NE women). They spend a LOT of time at the gym, and many of them take prescription medications that help them stay thin and moving.
I think its due to the many endocrine disrupters in our water, food, shots, etc. (flouride, bromine in bread, mercury) that tend to put many people's thyroids at risk. So, as a society, we are working with lower thryoid levels in general than maybe a generation or two ago had. Since thyroid is one of the main metabolism maintainers, it would make sense that many people are fatter today.
Then, you add to that the fact that more affluent people can afford to buy and eat fewer carbohydrates and better protein which helps keep the weight off. They don't tend to make the mainstay of their diets carbohydrates, which cause can weight gain in genetically susceptible people.
Another factor would be that affluent women might be more apt to go to the doctor and keep trying to find the reasons for weight gain and keep working on losing.
Just speculating, based on my own experience.
Not just America: we have this in the UK too. Poor people here are either less health and fitness conscious or too prone to eating junk foods as they are relatively cheap and easy to purchase.
As we have a socialist inspired system here of the state providing all in the way of benefits (though it does nag the poor overweights about their eagerness to drink and smoke as well as eat junk) it offers an interesting paradox. Give them less incentive to be mobile and/or work and then try to insist they indulge less doesn't do much good.
Oddly, our numerous immigrants from east europe and the Islamic nations appear to carry less weight than the indigenous natives, which suggests it is a western-acquired condition. Of course the newcomers weight may balloon too, but so far not yet...
It's simple really. Too many prepared foods to eat and entertainment choices that lead to a life as a couch potato. If you have ever seen "Wall-E" you'll get what I mean.
However there are some people who naturally gavitate towards what is considered "obese" even though they aren't in a physical activity sense.
I'm on the heavy side - 6'3"@275 - have been since about two years after I was a lean mean fighting machine Marine Corps style when I was 195. I keep a healthy food regimen - salads, small portions, three a day starting at 0530 with a small bowl of oatmeal, 1200 with some soup or cheese with some fruit and small portion dinner at 1730 with no snacking unless it is an apple, orange or other fruit. I walk every other day with Suzie De Dog in the woods for at least three miles in the morning - rain, sleet, snow or sun shine and spend a half hour every day working with weights. I spend at least three/four hours a day in either my wood shop, at the fishing bench, playing my guitars or synthesizer and/or working in my darkroom. I'm an avid outdoor still life photographer which requires walking around. I'm up at 0500 every day and turn in at 2100 for an hour of reading until sleepy time - 2200 - without fail.
All that and I'm still considered "obese". And I'm 64 years old and look like I'm a fat 55. :>) My younger by five years brother is often mistaken as my older brother - and he's one of the skinny "fit" ones.
With respect to the lean and mean look - well, I think that's situational to where you live. I know a lot of very educated academics who are as "obese" as I am only they aren't as active. I know a few doctors who are actually heavier than I am. That includes nurses too.
While it is true that fat people can have health risk profiles, lifestyle should also be considered when you start considering somebody as "fat" or "obese". My internist of twenty something years kept insisting that I lose weight until I had had enough and challenged her to a walk about a local track - 3 miles at my normal pace. She crapped out at a mile in and has never called me obese again. My BP is has gone never over 105/50 for the last fifteen years. Resting pulse is 50/60.
So while I may be "technically" obese, I sure as hell ain't. Frankly, I'm very comfortable with who I am and what I look like.
I think people are fat b/c they eat too much. Why do some people seem more capable of eating more than others and not get fat - question of the ages. I can't lose the 15 pounds I so desperately want to and I have good eating habits, love to be active and stay that way, and I am not ill, have a good thyroid, was thin most of my life, not diabetic, not immobile, etc.. I love healthy food, am not lazy, was raised eating good food and am not terribly impulsive. I am also trained as a scientist, think medical science is fascinating, love the idea of staying fit, active, and healthy and have tried about every kind of diet to the same effect, I remain 15 pounds overwieght. My theory is that there is no easy answer, no root cause, no social problem, etc. They call can play a part. To say its laziness - no way.
Even so, I do think that for the most part, when you realize you are gaining weight you can make changes so that you stop before you end up like the woman in the picture. And, if you are one of the lucky ones you might even go back!
My two cents....
Women, especially, have the tendency to treat food as a "substance" rather than "sustenance." Again, some have been taught to do this, either within their own family sphere or via the food and dieting industry. They don't know how to eat normally and enjoy it, so they use food like a drug, counting out and measuring out their food like shots of alcohol or a pack of cigarettes. It doesn't matter what the food item is, as long as it can be packaged into a 100 calorie serving.
There is no pleasure in eating this way, so it is not satisfying. And so, who cares? Eat the whole dam pizza.
Yes, wealthier women generally have more social/societal incentive to be thin. Well, alcohol, cigarattes, coffee and diet pills are all appetitie depressants. They probably have more time to exercise. And conventional eating disorders -- anorexia or bulimia -- are not at all uncommon and are rather easy to accommodate if you MUST be thin.
The one thing that drives me crazy is when parents hide fruits and veggies in the food. Are the parents eating fruits and veggies? Probably not; otherwise, they wouldn't have to hide it from their kids. I'd like to throw something at the TV when the Chef Boyardee commercial comes on. Kids, for the most part, will eat what the parents eat.
I think that the young? woman is in the plumbing profession. Definitely not attractive to me.
As to the reasons, I think everyone has hit on a common theme to much fast foods, high sugar, fat, salt content.
Marianne made a good point of people who grew up in the depression. I have never seen a picture of a fat American back then. Almost everyone had a lean and chisel look.
I also think once more farms became mechanized it brought more of everything to the market.
Some people are digging their own graves one spoonful at a time.
I seriously question the entire theory that thin is good--think is healthy. People are getting heavier and heavier and living longer and longer. There are some studies that show that thin people live less long, but they get zero publicity becuase they go against the prevailing cultural myth.
I think it is 100% status. There will always be ways to distinguish the upper and lower classes in any society. In America, one of those ways is for the upper class to maintain a different body weight from the lower class. And then they fund and publicize all kinds of publicity about how fat is unhealthy and fat people are lazy/uneducated. That way, anybody who sees a person who is thin will know that that person is upper-class.
Beware the class markers of any society. They distort everything.
I agree that being thin doesn't necessarily mean that a person is healthier. My husband knows someone who is skinny as a rake. The guy has a metabolism that runs nonstop. He consumes a 16 oz. bag of M&M's every day, plus other goodies. He also smokes. There's no way he's any healthier than someone who is on the heavy side. The thin, rich people may have their own trainer, but what are they consuming? To be healthy, which is far more important than being skinny, we have to eat plenty of fruits and veggies and eat as little processed food as possible. Sugar and salt are addictive and that's what processed foods are all about.
I thought the connection between income and health was well established. Wealthier communities tend to be healthier than less wealthy communities.
Eating well, I mean healthy, is more difficult and more costly than eating badly. Gym memberships and personal trainers are costly.
The literature people need to read to learn, personally, what they need to do for health and fitness cost money.
I would suggest, very gently, the qualities that help people take control of their incomes and become wealthy, are the same qualities that would lead them to take control of their health.
On the other hand obesity tends to be a handicap when it comes to promotions to higher-paying jobs. Executives are inclined to choose slimmer people for the most important jobs.
And, for what its worth, I have one other observation. I have recently changed my diet to include a lot of vegan and raw food. (I still eat some meat but much less than I once did.)
I would venture a guess that many would not expect a raw foodie to be a conservative, but I am. I guess I am saying that there might be a prejudice on the right against that type of lifestyle.
Smokey touched on this, but I'm surprised more commenters didn't. Smart, achieving, and therefore wealthy men have a larger pool of women to draw from. Is it any wonder that they would choose attractive, thin wives? And then their daughters have a greater chance of inheriting those beauty genes. And on it goes, the rich get thinner.
As for unmarried achieving women, if you're disciplined enough to study and get ahead in your career, there's a good chance you're disciplined enough to by-pass the hagen-dass. Plus, there are those that got their genes from the lucky nibs mentioned above.
if you're disciplined enough to study and get ahead in your career, there's a good chance you're disciplined enough to by-pass the hagen-dass
Except that your mindset is more likely to be "I studied hard and work hard so I deserve the Haagen-Dazs...
Look, I can live with the enormous behinds; what I can't handle is the spandex and thongs.
No time to read what's been written so far....here's my view:
I have a few (very few) good friends who work hard, are productive, active people who are "overweight" or "obese". At least one morbidly so.
Why are they this way? I have to believe it's genetic. At some point, all have tried a diet or exercise and seen slow or no results, and given up. Some have had some results, but given up anyway. I don't know why they did. I think they are content with their situations.
On the other hand, I know one person who was told they faced a life altering choice if they didn't lose the weight and - LO AND BEHOLD - they did lose it.
In the end, it's about how it impacts your life. These people are successful, but have found the weight doesn't make them unhappy or their lives worse. They don't believe they have fewer friends or less of anything because of it. So they don't work hard at it. They don't pay attention to the unrealistic demands they media make on how we should look.
On the other hand, I know of people where I grew up who are also overweight, and they are not working. For them, the rules are somewhat different. Rural area, fewer jobs, and they are definitely unhappy. So why not lose it? They can't figure out what it takes. Again, diets and exercise are slow or non-existent with results......
I always tell them the same thing, no matter their socio-economic group or income class: there is ONLY ONE WAY TO LOSE WEIGHT.
Less calories in as opposed to those you burn. In other words, if you choose to be sedentary, then you have to stop eating to lose weight. This still may not help....but it's a start.
Better yet, walk a mile a day for a week and reduce your portions in that week. Weigh yourself before the week, then after it's over (and be honest in your portion control), and determine if there was an effect - however minor. If there was....up it to 2 miles and reduce portions again.
Over time, they all have the same answer(s). 1. Gee, you were right. or 2. I didn't feel like doing it.
Choices like this suck, but even I made it when my back went out. At 6'0" and 215, I was hardly OBESE....but I was tubby enough to know that my back was under stress. My choice: exercise 3 days a week, with 2 1 mile runs, and reduced portions. After 2 months, I'm down 8 pounds.....and dropping.
My knees and feet hate me (I'm not a runner at all), but I feel much better about myself.
I forgot to mention - I don't think it has much to do with income or class. It has to do with attitude about "how is this impacting me?"
In the case of lower income groups, the differential in lifestyle is such they can't see a major difference. In higher income groups, SOMETIMES they can see a major difference. But it's not an iron-clad rule.
Though I think that there are more fat people now than in the past I think there's another factor that makes it seem even more so:
People don't know how to dress anymore, i.e. using clothes to flatter one's assets while playing down one's imperfections.
There will always be guys who are slobs, but it is dismaying to see women dress without a care as to how they present themselves.
First of all..is it true?
A base of all the poor and the middle class leaves a small number left to parse. How was this done?..who was filtered out?..what role does genetics play?
I think that a lot of the 'Americans are fat' and 'we've gotten fatter over the last 20 years', is for the most part bogus. Its a natural fact that as one ages, weight naturally adds. I believe I've read its a pound or so a year after a certain age.
The Baby Boom has a large number of people naturally gaining weight over the last 20 years throwing the numbers off.
That said....part of the answer to your question may be vanity is more common in that specialized group.
What's funny is there is a Gov. Christie video above this article.
Seems like many middle-aged women and some men give up their sexual identity after a few kids. The extra weight makes them androgynous, which they seem to welcome.
I work quite a bit overseas, where I'll spend a month or so at a time. And the first thing that I always notice upon my return, to Houston, is all the Fat People who are walking around.
Doesn't matter if I'm returning from the Caribbean, central Asia, Africa, Far East. It is a stark contrast.
The reason is the pervasive availability of high-carb, high fructose, high-fat American fast food, and the tendency of lower income people to eat too much of it. It is a commercial product designed to be cheap and readily available. Advertising works
The second modifier is exercise or activity levels. The people who already do not have active or hard-work type lifestyles cannot burn off this kind of dietary load. Those who do have active lifestyles still tend to be overweight under the sheer input of all this stuff.
I like the (very) occasional junk food splurge - even so, with an active lifestyle and exercise every other day, I am still 15 lb overweight.
You start to understand how much we over-feed when you work in a country where nearly everyone is showing great muscle definition just because they're skinny - because they don't eat much meat, or much, period - they can't afford to.
Lots of interesting thoughts here.
Marianne - Today I was approached by one of my former clients, who told me that he had just lost 35 lbs (no time interval mentioned, and I didn't want to interrupt). When I last saw him a year ago, he had forgone the suggested Diet Pepsi regimen, and gone back to his fifteen full-sugar sodas/day - let's see, 15 X 240kcal = 3,600 kcal/day, and that's before any meals! I had estimated his daily intake at 8,500 cal/day, at that time. He told me today that he again had gone off the soda.
This fellow is fairly typical of my "heavy" clients, in that with a lot of time on his hands, he'll tend to snack. Add to that his tendency to "eat" at problems, and you have a bad combination.
I never had the time to adequately coach him, just the basics, which many docs, nurses and physician associates barely have time for today. Saving these folks one at a time just isn't valued by the usual pay-sources for healthcare; led by the gummint, of course, the private insurers follow along.
I'm intrigued by the role of genetics, and the alleged "fat thermostat", which can be reset through continued exposure to high glucose levels (or is it insulin?).
I spent some time with a client I discharged from my service today in diet counseling. We agreed upon some goals and methods. I found myself disagreeing with the popular BMI guideline, since this man has large bones and is muscular for mid-60s. Not everyone who is large is unhealthy, so I think we need some newer metrics.
The Soda King above? He should lose another 130 lbs, and because he can't qualify for bariatric surgery, or a medically-supervised weight loss program, he'll do it the hard way with the one tool he can't supply himself - support and encouragement.
This somehow reminds me of a big shared student house. One of my female housemates was getting ready for a fancy party and came downstairs to ask the assembled company of the frock she had chosen "made her look fat".
The (literally) just off the boat student from central Africa said with obvious approval "Oohh Yes!".
On my last trip back across the pond last spring I noticed that there were lots of people on the tube just as large as the large people I notice out shopping in the USA.
I blame it on the school-run. At a recent social event I was discouraged to hear my wife agreeing with a parent who wouldn't let her children play outside within sight of a main road for fear of abduction. How do we expect the next generation to be anything but fat, when we won't allow them any wandering space as children? Free-range kids is what we need.
In my time living in and visiting Mediterranean countries I noticed that all the nubile women are svelte, but their mothers are all quite large.
I think we have also started treating obesity as a disability and therefore have started providing accommodations that make it less work to be fat.
Simple. Instant gratification vs. Delayed gratification. Those who master delayed gratification usually do so early in life, hence, they make the "right" decisions. They get good grades, they go to college and/or make a success of themselves. The rewards this brings reinforce the behavior and these people are able to diet, eat right, exercise - whatever - they keep themselves from getting behind the 8 ball of life early on.
Others - like myself, unfortunately, went for the instant gratification, didn't plan and didn't sacrifice for greater benefit later. Once a person gets behind the 8 ball of life, he is easily discouraged, especially if he is the "instant gratification" type. My older sister is the type that did the "right" things and she has continued to do so - she looks wonderful and is svelte, also she is not in debt. I, on the other hand, did not do this - and it has only continued as I've gotten older. And yes, I'm overweight. I don't think we can blame food - I think it begins early in life with the type of decisions that we make. It is true, in the time limited lives that we have, that if you screw up when young and you don't "make it up" later - you will pay for this one way or another for the rest of your life.
There is much truth to most of the reasons listed so far.
But I think the #1 reason wealthier women are more svelte is because the wealthier men who married them chose them for their svelteness. Wealthier men (and young men who are well on their way to being wealthy) get the pick of the litter.
The short of it: Good protein is expensive. Protein causes long-term satiation of appetite. Carbos are cheap, providing short-term satiation from sheer physical bulk in the stomach, but once in the bloodstream satiation quickly decreases and you're hungry again sooner.
Additionally, the substitution of high-fructose corn syrup in a LOT of foods in place of sugar is IMHO a villain. It's in many of the foodstuffs found in lower income households, the highly advertised breakfast cereals, breads, cookies, sodas, peanut butter, cheap yogurts, ice creams, candies, snacks, et cetera, that require no or minimal preparation and can be quickly consumed to satisfy hunger or impulse (bored, see it on TV, gotta eat it!). HFCS is very sweet and cheap, and consists of many fructose molecules linked together. The bigger the molecule, the sweeter. The sweeter the molecule, the fewer you need to add to the food, hence cheaper.
Now the problem is that a long, long polysaccharide like HFCS is not normally found in nature, and our bodies have not evolved a mechanism to process it as such. Fructose itself is a teenyweeny molecule with only 6 carbons. Fructose is only metabolized to glucose in your liver. Your liver has cells with a receptor site that lets you plug in ONE fructose because fructose normally exists in nature as a monosaccharide, one little fructose sugar all by itself. When that first fructose in a HFCS chain is processed, the remaining chain breaks off. It doesn't get to hang around in your liver and be processed one molecule at a time, like waiting for your number to be called at the DMV. Instead, like someone who eats an excess of sugar, that long remaining HFCS molecule gets turned into a triglyceride, a fat. Why? Because fructose is structurally a lot like glycerol, the backbone of a triglyceride. The three little alcohol substituent groups on a glycerol molecule are the attachment points for three fatty acid chains, with which your liver is well-stocked. Fructose ALSO has three little alcohol substituent groups, and a fatty acid chain does not discriminate. So eating only a little HFCS will still turn to fat, and eating it in quantity in the foods mentioned above, well, we see the result of such blimpification on the street and in our schools all the time.
Psychosocially, adipose people are not as socially acceptable. You do not see the chronically plump in the CEO's chair, the better jobs, higher levels of government, clubs, restaurants, movie and TV roles (unless the show is "Cops") and so on. So there's an incentive for those who travel in those circles to spend money on a better diet and means for keeping the waistline small. There's no such incentive for the middle class and the poor because they simply have no access to those circles (except, of course, "Cops" and "The Biggest Loser").
Bottom line (yes, it was intended), it's the conjunction of economics and nutrition.
Recently I was suffering from a very serious autoimmune disease and lost 20 pounds. For the life of me, I couldn't gain it back: I ate normal meals plus two high calorie body building shakes a day. Nothing. Then I became well enough to drive again. I stopped drinking the shakes, and instead ate fast food five times a week. I gained the weight back in less than four weeks, after six months of trying the other way.
I work the night shift at the local Wal-Mart. I see large numbers of overweight people come in, get a buggy, and pass by all of the foods that require effort to prepare. They head to the back of the store where the quick-fix meal solutions can be found.
Many of our customers consider a 30-foot walk, to return something to the shelf from which it came, too much trouble. This includes anything frozen or refrigerated, and we are constantly throwing out food that has been left in non-refrigerated areas for too long to be salable.
Before working at Wal-Mart, I taught computer literacy to ninth graders (much more stressful than night shift at Wal-Mart). This was at a charter school, and every student was required to have at least one parent employed by a company related (in some way) to the school's sponsor. The alleged "childhood obesity epidemic" did not exist among my students. A few were over, and a few were under, but most of them were ordinary, and would have appeared ordinary in Europe (where I have lived).
I do think that the attitude of the person has as much to do with their figure than anything else, with exceptions for those who have a medical issue. People who demand much of themselves will be healthy. Those who demand little will be couch potatoes.
Fiftyville is exactly right and I appreciate him explaining the technical reasons behind it. If you charted the rise in extreme obesity, it would track the increase in corn syrup in our foods exactly.
I've worked in several call centers and a lot of truly obese folks find jobs in those places. In watching what they eat, it's not high fat foods. It's primarily the high carb, overly processed snack foods, full of HFCS. The inactivity of such a job does not help either. I used to work picking apples. I weighed in around 180 (5'6"). There is no gym where I can work out at that level. And so my current weight is up around 240. When I've done physical labor, I've been able to lose weight but it always returns when I'm not as active.
Another thing to point out is that it is much harder to lose weight as you age, especially for women. Genetically, women tend to store weight. So, at some point, you just decide to live with it.
I won't hazard a guess about overweight males, except to note that in my case it reflects a lack of exercise coupled with unfettered access to delicious southern style cooking.
But as for middle class and poor women, at least some of the weight gain seems to be left-over pregnancy pounds. Unless they watch it most carefully, ladies will tend to eat a trifle more during the period before and just after giving birth. And as my daughter says, "A moment on the lips; a lifetime on the hips."
I submit, with absolutely no evidence to back it up, that poorer women tend to birth more babies that the country club women.
I'm wealthy, well-educated, and fat. Cultural pressure? Bad influences? Failure of the First Lady to get through to me with her message of hope? Nope. I just eat more than I need for my level of activity. Because I enjoy it, and don't control myself.
People are heavy/overweight/obese/fat because they eat too much. Trying to place the blame on genetics, high fructose corn syrup or the high cost of healthy foods is simply the current way of thinking: everyone is a victim. No one takes personal responsibility for much of anything because, you see, it's not their fault.
How can anyone seriously blame genetics unless their grandparents and other ancestors were also over-inflated?
Also, look at some of the people who've had bariatric surgery, particularly football coaches. They drop weight after the surgery and a few years later are back approaching their old selves. It's all in how much they eat.
Next, take a look at classic fat comics: Oliver Hardy, Jackie Gleason, Curley Howard. They'd look positively svelte next to some of the folks around today.
In my opinion, the major reason for obesity is the availability of almost any food you desire 24/7. Growing up in the 60's, your local supermarket or McDonalds closed at 9:00 p.m. or even earlier. Now - instant gratification is just a short drive (or walk) away. No need to go to bed hungry- even if you should.
Please explain to me then, why you did not see folks as obese back in the 50s as you do now? It's not just about food and the amount. The folks I knew, blue collar types, could back away the food but they never gained on the back of their shoulders like I see now. And back in those times, you could buy things like lunch meat that didn't include corn syrup in the ingredients. Read the labels. You might learn something.
I work sitting down all day and I comute an hour and a half each way. I'm 59, with bad knees and doubt seriously that I'd lose weight if I dropped down to a bare minimum diet. You see, if it really were that simple, there would not be all these different weight loss plans. We are individuals and our bodies do not respond in the same way.
Please go ahead and feel good about yourself. It's not you're fault, apparently.
quote]First, why are so many American middle-class and poor people (especially women) fat or overweight, while wealthier and better-educated women tend to be svelte?[/quote]
This isn't allowed in formal logic, but this ain't formal, nor is it logic, so I'm going to call bullshit on your premise.
If you just chunk people into four groups: Under, correct, over and REALLY OVER weight you will find that for men the distribution is probably pretty similar across social and economic classes.
It's going to be slightly different for women, but my bet is that to the extent that it is different, the weight difference is causal, not the class.
If you are, in your college years, obese, your marriage prospects as a women are narrower. Your ability to get into fast-track careers that significantly move you out of the middle class are reduced.
Hell, I would suggest that the kinds of discipline one needs to get into top flight schools and social cliques are the same sorts of discipline one needs to remain acceptably thin. Once you have established this behavior in your late teens and twenties it continues.
If you get your MRS degree from an accredited high-earner, and/or you yourself are a high earner there is a limited amount of adipose tissue one is allowed to have before ones prospects for promotion dim. And before one's chance of being replaced by a Trophy Wife increase. Oh, and if that happens, thanks to the homosexuals ruining marriage straights ruining marriage with "no-fault divorce", that woman is very likely to fall well into the middle class or upper bounds of the lower class.
Almost no one wants to hire obese people. Fat limits your ability to make money in this way. Men have wider latitude in this because we aren't judged as much on our looks. Women not so much.
As to diet: It's not just the types of food you eat, it's the quality of food. Your body NEEDS certain vitamins and minerals. The higher quality your meats (grass fed/pastured v.s. grain fed/factory raised), Fruits and vegetables (heirloom varieties picked as close to ripe as possible), nuts and seeds. These are the things that you eat to be healthy.
Pizza, soy, beans, spaghetti, anything with HFC or "vegetable" oil (which is almost always corn oil, which is a grain), which taste NUMMY AS HELL, but are not good for you, unless you run marathon as training for the real long distance events.
It's the money, stupid.
Wealthy people have the money to buy gym memberships. They have the money to hire out their housekeeping, child care, etc., which gives them the time to go to the gym or to hire in a personal trainer (hello, Oprah!). They have the money to eat whatever they choose whenever they choose -- including the option to not eat. They have the money to hire a chef to cook a certain way for them (hello, Oprah!).
I would imagine wealthy people also face much more social pressure to look "right" because of the very narrow little world they live in. When you're being photographed every day, it would rather raise your consciousness about your physical appearance, eh?
Middle-class people have to do it all themselves because they don't the the excess money to hire it out to make time for exercise and special diets. No private chefs and fewer gym memberships, if they even have the time to go to a gym. Again, middle-class people can't jet off to Aspen for a long weekend of entertainment, so an ice-cream sundae is often used as a substitute -- again it's the money.
And because middle-class people generally have their heads on straighter than the wealthy -- by which I mean they understand better what is truly important and what is vanity, vanity -- they are more tolerant of everyone who is not perfect. Meaning simply everyone.
Christ said it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the wealthy to reach the kingdom of heaven. Ponder that.