Notice the difference between the 2 photographs?
Barring the obvious answer, colour, almost everyone in the older pic is slim.
How have we grown so fat, so fast?
Unfortunately, at around the time the photograph was taken, people started becoming fatter – and the trend has continued ever since.
Reasons that instantly spring to mind are:
- we are eating way more today.
- food was expensive and disgusting in the 70s.
- not too many food chains back then.
- shops were far out and shut earlier.
- manual labour is a lot less today.
Well, most of these plausible explanations fall flat in the face of hard facts.
Firstly, we ate way more in the 1970s than today. Approximately on average 2,2280 calories in the 70s as compared to 2,130 calories today.
Secondly, even the ‘less manual labour’ reason doesn’t hold good. A paper last year in the International Journal of Surgery states that “adults working in unskilled manual professions are over four times more likely to be classified as morbidly obese compared with those in professional employment”.
Thirdly, it’s not even because we are exercising lesser than before. In fact, a study proposes that there is no relationship between physical activity and weight gain. Many other studies suggest that exercise, while crucial to other aspects of good health, is far less important than diet in regulating our weight. Some suggest it plays no role at all as the more we exercise, the hungrier we become.
While there is evidence suggesting they may all play a role, and while they could explain some of the variation in the weight gained by different people on similar diets, none appears powerful enough to explain the general trend.
So what has happened?
The light begins to dawn when you look at the nutrition figures in more detail. Yes, we ate more in 1976, but differently. Today, we buy half as much fresh milk per person, but five times more yoghurt, three times more ice cream and – wait for it – 39 times as many dairy desserts. We buy half as many eggs as in 1976, but a third more breakfast cereals and twice the cereal snacks; half the total potatoes, but three times the crisps. While our direct purchases of sugar have sharply declined, the sugar we consume in drinks and confectionery is likely to have rocketed (there are purchase numbers only from 1992, at which point they were rising rapidly. Perhaps, as we consumed just 9kcal a day in the form of drinks in 1976, no one thought the numbers were worth collecting.) In other words, the opportunities to load our food with sugar have boomed. As some experts have long proposed, this seems to be the issue.
The Men Who Made Us Fat
The shift has not happened by accident. As Jacques Peretti argued in his film The Men Who Made Us Fat, food companies have invested heavily in designing products that use sugar to bypass our natural appetite control mechanisms, and in packaging and promoting these products to break down what remains of our defences, including through the use of subliminal scents. They employ an army of food scientists and psychologists to trick us into eating more than we need, while their advertisers use the latest findings in neuroscience to overcome our resistance.
They hire biddable scientists and think tanks to confuse us about the causes of obesity. Above all, just as the tobacco companies did with smoking, they promote the idea that weight is a question of “personal responsibility”. After spending billions on overriding our willpower, they blame us for failing to exercise it.
“There are no excuses. Take responsibility for your own lives, people!”
“No one force feeds you junk food, it’s personal choice. We’re not lemmings.”
“Sometimes I think having free healthcare is a mistake. It’s everyone’s right to be lazy and fat because there is a sense of entitlement about getting fixed.”
The thrill of disapproval chimes disastrously with industry propaganda. We delight in blaming the victims.
Perhaps this is because obesophobia is often a fatly-disguised form of snobbery. In most rich nations, obesity rates are much higher at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale. They correlate strongly with inequality, which helps to explain why the UK’s incidence is greater than in most European and OECD nations. The scientific literature shows how the lower spending power, stress, anxiety and depression associated with low social status makes people more vulnerable to bad diets.
Just as jobless people are blamed for structural unemployment, and indebted people are blamed for impossible housing costs, fat people are blamed for a societal problem.
But yes, willpower needs to be exercised – by governments.
Yes, we need personal responsibility – on the part of policymakers.
And yes, control needs to be exerted – over those who have discovered our weaknesses and ruthlessly exploit them.
By: Delshad Master