Why We’re Getting Fatter

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fat-stomachBy David Frum

Today is the second day of 2012, which means millions of Americans have started new diets. They resolved to lose weight, get in shape, and they are starting strong.

Sadly, the odds are that almost all of these resolutions will soon be broken and abandoned. Close to half of all dieters end up heavier than ever. Virtually none will lose weight permanently.

The same is true for the country as a whole. Obesity has become the country’s leading public health problem. Yet as we talk and talk about the issue, the country only becomes fatter and fatter.

The problem for the country echoes the problem for individuals: Willpower is not enough. “(It’s a) basic instinct to store calories to survive the next period of starvation. And we live in an environment where there’s food every half mile. It’s tasty, cheap, convenient, and you can eat it with one hand.”

Thus says Martijn Katan of the Institute of Health Sciences at VU University in Amsterdam, author of one of the many studies on the limits of dieting, quoted in U.S. News & World Report.

If you as an individual want to change your weight, you must change your whole life. Likewise, to reduce obesity in modern society, we will have to alter the way society is organized.

Weight gain is driven by two trends: increases in calories consumed and decrease in calories expended. Modern America induces both.

For example: The after-inflation cost of sugary soda has declined by an estimated 48% over the past 20 years. Correspondingly, consumption of sugary soda has soared: Sugary soda is now thesingle most important source of calories in the American diet.

For example again: The number of Americans who work at physically taxing jobs continues its steady decline. Even those jobs that demand physical labor — manufacturing, for example — are much less grueling than they used to be, as electrically powered machines do the lifting and shifting that used to consume human energy.

While Americans expend fewer calories at work, they spend more time in cars — almost twice as much as in the 1970s. They spend 26 hours per week consuming TV or online entertainment. Americans could theoretically compensate for more sedentary lifestyles by stepping up their recreational exercise — but only about 20% of Americans bother. Some 80% never do — including presumably all those failed dieters.

Want to change this? It’s no small project. It would involve the redesign of cities, the relocation of schools, the reinvention of our modes of eating and amusement.

First lady Michelle Obama has made healthy eating her special project. Good for her, and let’s hope her efforts lead to success. But if we are to succeed, we should understand: The campaign against obesity will have to look a lot less like the campaign against smoking (which involves just one decision, to smoke or not to smoke) and much more like the generation-long campaign against highway fatalities, which required the redesign of cars, the redesign of highways, and changes in personal behavior like seat-belt use and drunk driving.

The good news is that the campaign against highway fatalities has yielded real progress: down two-thirds since the mid-1960s. The bad news is that, for most of us, it will take more than a New Year’s resolution. However, if you are seriously resolved, congratulations — and see you on the jogging path.

{CNN/Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. The reason people today are fatter than ever before is one main reason:
    Food today is not the food we ate from 30-50 years ago. It was hard to find real obese people at that time; usually they had jobs in the circus and the fattest person in the circus was half the weight of today’s extremely obese person. The cause is sort of the ’empty calorie’ problem, where there is not even a semblance of nutrition in your fruits, vegetables and all the processed, packaged foods. Everything, everything literally is GMO’d and we do not know its effect on the human body; the earth is depleted of its minerals, vitamins, etc.; there are chemicals put into our foods, via preservatives, additives and, of course, the pesticides which are today injected into the seeds themselves. The fast food market has been very bad for the health and well-being, especially children who are raised with such meals. Years ago, people would eat 7-course dinners many times but no one was fat. The cattle or fowl weren’t injected with hormones, anti-biotics and ate grass. Today, they are eating the carcasses of dead animals and are being fed anti-biotics and hormones. (Cannot understand how the carcass problem doesn’t pose a kashrut problem). This has to be detrimental in every single way. Think about it. Going against G-D’s nature never works! Eat organics whenever possible. As #1 suggests, walk instead of taking the car if it’s in walking distance.

  2. When a doctor or health professional suggest that you can get all your nutrients from food to stay healthy and keep ur immune system strong… think twice… our food as the previous paragraph clearly wrote is not anywhere near where it should be… keep that in mind the next time ur feelin down or sick… add more natural and pure nutrients into ur daily diet. Quality vitamins can really make a huge difference in your health… eat wholesome food, organic when u can (afford it) and get ur body moving!!!

  3. Turn off the computer. Go outside and walk for twenty minutes at a brisk pace. Don’t take your cell phone or iPod. (If you’re in NYC, be careful to slow down and check the light when you cross a street.) Do this every day. You’ll not only feel better physically, the 20 minutes away from the electronic deluge will clear your brain nicely.

    Oh, and get enough sleep. Studies show that going without sleep increase the body chemicals that help make you fat. Walk enough, sleep enough, and skip that second helping of cholent 🙂

  4. I agree! Obesity is just one more effect of the “success” story of modern society to overcome the natural world Hashem has created. Society has become so artificial, overstressed, and unstable; that obsessive eating habits (which come largely from stress/overexertion) and food advertisement bombardment have doubled the “weight package” of our modern world.

  5. To #7:

    I feel bad for you. I am, Boruch Hashem, a PRESENT Jerusalemite. Your statement may indeed echo what it says in Tana D’vei Eliyahu that whoever gets disgusted with a good life – it is a bad sign for him. I’m glad you do appreciate the positive.

    Notwithstanding, there is also a Gemara that says that more people die regularly from overeating than from malnutrition. Even if there are statistically today more deaths from the world’s starving populations, this is all because of the greed of the world’s wealtholders – who allow this all to go unchecked – amidst global food glut.


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