Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Has Eating Alone Caused an Obesity Epidemic?

'Tis a puzzlement.

What are Americans so fat? Why are the citizens of our great nation leading the world in the obesity derby? We are not be very competitive in math and science. Our millennial generation has mastered the art of slacking off. But, we are eating ourselves into oblivion—one Twinky at a time.

It’s not just that Americans are fat. It’s not just that large numbers of Americans are obese. More and more Americans are morbidly obese. While the numbers seem to have plateaued for American men, the numbers of fat and obese and morbidly obese American women have kept rising.

One suspects that nutrition is part of the problem. And yet, people talk about nutrition all the time. They obsess over dieting and nutrition.  Mama Michelle Obama is forcing them to eat supposedly healthy foods in public schools.

The result of that experiment has been tons of wasted foods and hordes of starving children lining up for triple Big Macs.

At the least, all of the enhanced consciousness over nutrition seems to have made the problem worse. For all I know, thinking and talking about food and nutrition all the time, encouraging people to obsess about their weight, has aggravated the problem.

NBC News reports the grim statistics:

The U.S. obesity epidemic continues to worsen: The latest reports show that 40 percent of U.S. women are obese, and American teenagers are also continuing to put on weight.

The two reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that efforts to encourage Americans to lose weight — at least to stop putting on more weight — are having little effect.

Anyone who thought that raising consciousness about obesity was going to cause people to lose weight ought to revise their thinking. Making obesity an issue, making it a subject of constant discussion and conversation seems to produce the opposite effect.

Even starvation diets do not work: perhaps because they deprive people of essential nutrients and make them over-eat junk food.

Think about it: we have all been told that it is bad to fat-shame people. I suspect that it’s also bad to morbid-obesity shame people, too. We know that we should never, ever call a child or an adult fat. And yet, the end result of all this do-goodism is: more obesity.

NBC continues:

Overall, 38 percent of U.S. adults are obese and 17 percent of teenagers are, the two reports find.

That's obese — medically defined as having a body mass index (BMI), a measure of height to weight, that's more than 30. Another third or so of Americans are overweight.

People are considered overweight when their BMI hits 25, and they are obese when it gets to 30.

Someone who is 5-foot-5 and weighs 149 pounds has a body mass index of 24, considered a healthy weight. Add a pound and the same person has a BMI of 25 and is considered overweight. At 180 pounds this person has a BMI of 30 and is considered obese.

Since the nation is apparently obsessessed with women’s bodies, one should not be surprised to discover that women suffer from more obesity than men, and from a lot more morbid obesity:

"The age-adjusted prevalence of obesity in 2013-2014 was 35 percent among men and 40.4 percent among women," they wrote in their report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

More than 5 percent of men and nearly 10 percent of women were morbidly obese, with a BMI of 40 or more. They're at much higher risk of related diseases.

What’s the problem? Of course, these statistics are symptoms. They might not be symptoms of poor nutrition, but they point to the fact that something is wrong with America.

Considering how often I have written about the problems that have been produced by America’s great social experiment, I will refrain here.

For decades now, America had been engaged in a great social experiment. We no longer believe in the importance of strong and intact families. We believe in individual self-fulfillment. We no longer believe in propriety and decorum. We believe in full self-expression, emotional and sexual. Women have been liberated, but apparently the joys of liberation have meant packing on more pounds. Whatever liberation has done for women, it has made them markedly more insecure about their womanliness.

Independence and autonomy sound good on paper. In reality, a woman who is told that she has to take care of herself will be hearing that no one will ever want to take care of her. Women have been liberated from the repressive rules of marriage. They have found, far too often, that independent and autonomous are code for: alone. They find it depressing and try to eat their way out of it.

One suspects that the Hillary Clinton candidacy is not going to solve the problem of female obesity. Since the culture tells us that if people are unhappy—as, undoubtedly, many people are—they can solve the problem by taking pills. Someone should notice that more than a few of our fellow citizens are self-medicating with food.

Some time ago sociologist Robert Putnam wrote a book about the fraying American social fabric. It was called, Bowling Alone. In place of bowling leagues and the voluntary associations that Alexis de Tocqueville believed were endemic to American life, we are more likely, in an atomized social world, to go out bowling alone.

We are suffering from anomie and trying to treat it by indulging our appetites—both for food and for sex.

Let us emphasize that these two appetites are connected, and that the more experts call for more, better sex-- for indulging all of one’s sexual appetites, freely and openly-- the more our citizens indulge their alimentary appetites. If it is good to indulge your sexual appetites without restraint or constraint, why would it not be good and healthy to indulge your other appetites without restraint or constraint?

So, here is a cause of the problem that has assuredly not crossed the minds of the geniuses at the Centers for Disease Control. They and other relevant experts should get over their tendency to recommend more, better diets a panacea, and consider that people eat too much because they are: Eating Alone!

At a time when no one much cares about social harmony, this will sound somewhat jarring. At a time when people have not only rejected customary and traditional ways of doing things but are persuaded that shredding the social fabric is a great civilizational advance, we are ignoring the fact that human beings are social beings and that they are made to consume food as part of a social ritual.

We know that family dinners benefit children. We ought also to know that when food consumption is detached from social rites, you will be left alone struggling with your appetite. And, that is one struggle you are going to lose.

Today’s America is making Marco Ferreri’s film, La Grande Bouffe look prophetic.


sestamibi said...

"One suspects that the Hillary Clinton candidacy is not going to solve the problem of female obesity."

Yeah, especially when she isn't exactly svelte herself these days.

Ares Olympus said...

Ugh, more blind blame games with no data.

The serious way you answer questions like "Does eating together lead to lower weight?" is to study the question, see if people who eat alone more often are gaining weight faster than those who eat alone less often.

My guess is you'll find fat people who eat together and skinny people who eat together, you'll have fat people who eat alone, and skinny people who eat alone, and there won't be sufficient correlation to say anything. But its all just speculation.

We just talked recently about "free will", and whether humans have it or not, or whether believing in it makes a difference even if we don't. Perhaps obesity can be applied to the question. Do people with a higher will power have a lower rate of obesity?

Or perhaps will is more useful for creating new habits, and breaking old ones, while its the good habits themselves that reduce the need for will power?

I'd consider that sleep might be just as important, and that people who get less sleep have less will power to resist temptation. And new parents tend to put on weight, and it might make sense that a lack of regular sleep followed by the extra stress of caring for a child make comfort food look more appealing.

And I'd also be interested in looking at serving sizes. Do we use bigger plates for our dinner now than 50 years ago? Do people control their own amount of food on their plates when they eat together, or is it given to them like at a restaurant? Do people eat more at all-you-can-eat buffets? And how much food is available between meals? Do you work somewhere that has constant access to free food - donuts, cookies, etc? And if you're working alone 8 hours/day and then the only time you're not alone is when your munching snacks together in the office kitchen, its surely easy to overeat.

I do remember there was some experiment with rats and cocaine, and when they were bored in an empty cage with a lever with cocaine water, they'd become addicted, while newer experiments found if they were put in a less sterile environment, only a few rats would become addicts. So a study like that might support Stuart's speculations, compulsive behavior is more likely when people are bored and any sort of socialization, perhaps including communal meals might help.

And I'm tempted to believe that carbohydrates are a problem, the idea that carbs are different than other calories because they produce a spike in insulin and then a crash and then you feel hungry again. And that might be why the Atkins diet works.

And finally exercise, my running coach says "Rx Exercise" as the key to good health, and he also has a joke "A family that sweats together, sticks together." How do you encourage people of any age to get off their butts? Some people need social activity to do it.

And in contrast if your primary family ritual is to eat a big dinner together and then watch 3 hours of evening TV together along with snacks and desserts, its hard to bet that's going to be a skinny family.

Shaun F said...

I'm not sure if it's just food. I take public transit and I see a lot of women, that are clearly on pharmaceuticals, overweight in (or not in) their motorised scooters, drinking chai latt├ęs, Slurpees, or Coca Cola for breakfast. I'm certain there is some significant co-relation between pharmaceuticals, soda pop, and weight gain that is not factored into this "epidemic".

R Devere said...

Obese people are the result of fifty years of horrible government research and promotion of unhealthy eating habits. Weight is directly diet-related. Exercise will help your overall health, but WON'T help one lose weight! (How many fat girls do you see spending hours on the treadmills?)

All fat people need to do is eat fewer carbs, essentially cut sugar out of their diet, avoid anything marked "lowfat" and eat more saturated fats and meat protein.

People are hungry because they're fat; not vice versa. Your diet will train your body how to properly process foods so as to burn fat, rather than store calories in the form of carbs as fat deposits. Read Gary Taubes' book "Why We Get Fat". As he points out, this stuff on diet was known in the 1930's through research performed by German and Austrian scientists. Problem was their research was rarely translated into English and all things "German" became suspect after WWII.

Now we've learned that American researchers who pushed the high carb, low-fat diet, urging Americans to avoid, meat, eggs, dairy and saturated fats, fudged their own data and ignored other studies that conflicted with the own pre-determined conclusions about diet---you know, the old "Verdict first, then the trial" attitude.

Following Taubes recommendations, I, Mr Average American, have lost and kept off 25 lbs of "fat" and feel and look healthier than ever. The young guys in the gym where I lift, think I'm in my mid-50's, despite me being well over 60!