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Dan C

Rather then ask why do the obese have obese friends, ask why thin people have thin friends.

Perhaps people who enjoy physical activity tend to have friends who enjoy physical activity. Perhaps this more physically active subset of the population is shrinking and the result is a general population that is increasingly obese.

I would also look at time spent in cars (or even commute times in general) for different populations (even other countries) and see how this affects obesity levels. The assumption being that more time in transit leaves less time for physical activity.

Next I would look at the increase in air conditioning which makes being out of shape less of a burden.

Also 3,500 calories equals about one pound (close enough) so a slight change in activity and diet can have a large impact even over a one year period. Once the weight gain occurs reversing direction is more difficult.


Rather than "modest taxes," redesigning the infamous farm bill seems like a more modest solution:

NY Times "You Are What You Grow"



Rather than "modest" taxes, a redesign of the Farm Bill seems warranted:

NY Times, You Are What You Grow


Paul N

I am disturbed by Becker's tacit acceptance of the oft-cited but never-proven argument that fatty food is a contributing factor to increasing U.S. obesity.

I actually believe that the faulty principle that "eating fat makes you fat", and the corresponding increased tendency to eat low fat, high carb food in the past 30 years, is the biggest reason obesity has been rising so rapidly in the U.S.

Jeff Yates

Re the obesity epidemic, two words: corn syrup --

This is discussed in detail in a good read, The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan.

jeff Carter

I am surprised at the portion sizes. You go to a restaurant and order some pasta and it's enough for three, let alone two. A scientist at the University of Illinois has done research on eating, and has found that if there is food in front of you, you will eat it. Your eye is a poor judge of potion size etc.

Restaurants are under pressure to offer as much as they can at the lowest cost, so it is no surprise that they have increased portion sizes.

This, along with the fact that people are not preparing food at home, and a lot of times if they do it's easy to make processed food, increases obesity. People are more sedentary too. We used to go out and play basketball on a court every day, not on a video screen.


I'll start by noting the rather paradoxical problem we seem to have here in America:
Our poor people are too fat. (It seems that literally letting them "eat cake" may not have been such a good idea after all...)

My suggested solutions:

1. Reform health education in High School.

When I was in High School, approximately 99% of our physical education class was focused on playing sports--something most people stop doing after their mid-twenties. Also, our "Health Class" was focused on eating right to avoid things like cancer and diabetes, conditions that teenagers know won't affect them for quite some time. Instead, I think High School Health Education should capitalize on teenagers' obsession with their looks and show them ways to eat right and excercise in a way that makes them both healthier and, more importantly, better looking.

2. Subsidize Healthy Food. (Perhaps through some kind of joint effort with our current farm subsidies.)

3. Research and develop food supplements.

Personally, I drink alot of protein and meal replacement shakes because they are healthy, taste good, and are fast and convieniant. Unfortunatly, they are also very expensive. If someone invented a cheap effective meal replacement shake, it would be a formidable weapon in the battle against obesity.


At least part of the reason portion sizes are big is because the price of labor is so high. If a restaurant has the choice of increasing food portions or increasing service and the marginal cost of portions is lower than the marginal cost of labor, the portions will get bigger.


Let 'em smoke. Anyone notice/study how the rise in obesity worldwide correlates with the decline in smoking? I don't smoke and don't like cigarette smoke, but I do wonder if we've traded one unhealthy habit for another. France is about to implement fairly draconian smoking restrictions, so I expect to see stories about the French obesity epidemic within a few years.

As for restaurants, 95% of their costs are involved with getting customers in the door, preparation, rent, utilities, etc. Food costs are trivial in comparison, so they can make a killing by offering 2x the food at 1.2x the price.

Dan C

Possible sources for obese children

School based meals teach bad habits.

Working moms mean more kids eating fast food.

More working moms means the cost of a balanced home cooked meal has increased

Large high schools mean less athletic participation i.e. Larger high schools field better teams and more elite players because of increased competition, but a few smaller schools would have more players. This winner take all competition discourages marginal would be athletes. Superstars and spuds.

More options for boredom then physical activity.

With increased sexual activity in teens even the heavy kids are getting action. Boys feel less pressure to be physically attractive (athletic) to gain sexual conquest. Girls don't need to be very attractive to gain boys attention, they can substitute sex. Implies the cost, in physical terms, for sexual activity has declined.

Kids getting too much homework leaves less time for physical activity.

Parents are older and spend less active time with children.

Smaller families means less time spent beating on siblings.

Who knows? For some reason people enjoy physical activity less, choose to eat more, and do not feel the need to change

Margot Critchfield

Is there any research on the effect on obesity of offering high calorie foods in a social situation like a conference, workshop, or business meeting where food is not necessary? This seems to be a taken for granted social custom.


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