At least, if you're Michael S. Rosenwald you do. In his Washington Post story Why America Has to Be Fat, he lays out the case for Fat Americans (most are) being Good For the Economy.

mc ad With all due respect to Mr. Rosenwald, who confesses to being 60 pound overweight, you've got to be kidding me! This article is wrong in so many ways that I almost don't know where to begin. The headline alone implies that we have little choice in the matter. The premise that being fat is good for the economy couldn't be more short-sighted. How ignorant of the long-term costs and consequences is this?

Before we go any farther, let me get one thing out of the way. I used to be in the majority: a fat American. But 11 months ago, I decided to change all that and do it in a permanent way. As a result, I'm 55 pounds lighter and can't imagine why I didn't do it 15 years ago. So I think I'm entitled to an opinion on the matter.

I could spend all day picking quotes from the article and ranting about how wrong they are, but instead I'll pick just a few of my favorites:

In some ways, we are better off in this Fat Economy. Many people work in easier, better-paying jobs, which help pay for their big homes in the suburbs. Women don't have to spend two hours preparing dinner every night; many have risen to unprecedented levels of corporate and political power. Flat-panel plasma TVs hang over fireplaces, which can be lit using the same remote control for flipping channels. But the unintended consequence of these economic changes is that many of us have become fat. An efficient economy produces sluggish, inefficient bodies.

Okay, we've got all these better paying jobs which make it possible to buy McMansions and hang flat-panel plasma TVs over our fireplaces. And that means we're better off? Are people really happier and less stressed? The stories I read indicate that we're at or near all-time highs for work related stress and anxiety. The lust for a big house with expensive electronics is hardly healthy. Are those what really matter in life?

But hey, it means Big Business makes money, right? In fact, he says as much:

For many corporations, and even for physicians, Americans' obesity has also fattened the bottom line. William L. Weis, a management professor at Seattle University, says revenue from the "obesity industries" will likely top $315 billion this year, and perhaps far more. That includes $133.7 billion for fast-food restaurants, $124.7 billion for medical treatments related to obesity, and $1.8 billion just for diet books -- all told, nearly 3 percent of the overall U.S. economy.


Can you imagine if that $315 billion had been put to use for something productive like, say, education? No, instead it's being used to make up for laziness. Isn't that just a little sickening?

Now, who do we blame for this?

"The obesity problem is really a side effect of things that are good for the economy," said Tomas J. Philipson, an economics professor who studies obesity at the University of Chicago, a city recently named the fattest in America. "But we would rather take improvements in technology and agriculture than go back to the way we lived in the 1950s when everyone was thin. Nobody wants to sweat at work for 10 hours a day and be poor. Yes, you're obese, but you have a life that is much more comfortable."


The obesity problem is a direct result of how fat people eat. Their lack of concern for their own personal health is the problem, not the fact that calorie-loaded food is easier to come by. That's like blaming crime on guns.

On the calories-expended side of the Fat Economy, economists have noted that changes in the workplace have caused us to burn fewer calories. Prior to the 1950s, jobs often meant hard labor. We lifted heavy things. We worked outside. Our desks -- if we had them -- did not come equipped with computers. We lived in urban environments, walking most places.

Doesnít' that mean we should simply eat less? Or at least exercise more?

"People are just not willing to give up their leisure time," Philipson said. "People don't want to pay to exercise with their leisure time."

Ah ha! There's the real problem. It's laziness. People don't want to exercise unless they're paid to do it. Maybe the headline should have been: Fat Americans Want Money Before Health.

Again, later in the article, there's more evidence that someone understands what's really going on:

"The structure of the economy has made us more obese," Cutler said. "That is clearly true. What businesses do is they cater to what we want, whether what we want is really in our long-term interests or not. So people are obese and they want to diet, but they also want things to be immediately there. Manufacturers and storeowners make that possible. The upside is nobody spends two hours a day cooking anymore."

How depressing that the story is written as if "the economy" is to blame.

Posted by jzawodn at January 23, 2006 10:36 AM

Reader Comments
# Matt said:

Hey Jeremy, I've been curious... what did you do to lose 55 pounds? For a lot of people, it's hard to break through the habit/lifestyle barrier that keeps them over-weight. Personally, I got past the initial 30 pounds of "college weight" rather quickly and then found it hard to go from there because I'm generally rather sedentary.

Any advice on how to make one's self get off of one's respective arse?

on January 23, 2006 11:11 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

I will post my secret formula on Feb 4th, when it'll have been exactly 1 year. :-)

on January 23, 2006 11:21 AM
# Shanti Braford said:

Hey Jeremy,

Looking forward to 'feb 4th' for the formula to drop =)

I know there are tons of geeks (like me) who've let the bulge get way too out of control and are ready for a change!


on January 23, 2006 11:28 AM
# Joe Hunkins said:

Well, some of that article is tongue in cheek plus he's simply noting some logical cause and effects. I'd argue the main reason we tend toward fat is that evolution could not anticipate the rise of grocery store and big Macs. We were designed for a harsher food environment than we now inhabit.

I'm trying my own "math diet" right now and it seems to be working - I weigh myself several times a day and adjust eating accordingly. The constant reminder of gain /reinforcement of loss seems to be working very well.

on January 23, 2006 11:30 AM
# Ryan said:

"Yes, you're obese, but you have a life that is much more comfortable."

What? How is adult onset diabetes more comfortable? How is huffing and puffing during the walk from your car to your office more comfortable? How is cramming your overlarge ass into a narrow seat on a plane/in a theater/at an arena more comfortable?

I'm not even as far overweight as many people are and I can tell you there's nothing comfortable about it.

on January 23, 2006 12:01 PM
# Tom Becker said:

I went from 255 lbs. to 185 lbs. in about 4 years, all in college, and it was from simply exercising and only eating when I was hungry. Even if it was "dinner time" I would not eat unless I was hungry. I also made sure I didn't eat high calorie foods after about 7 p.m. I still adhere to this in most cases. Ramming 50 grams of fast food fat at 10 p.m. cannot be good for your body.

Along the same lines, I also became hyper conscious of fullness and tried never to stuff myself beyond feeling like I could still be mobile. To this day, I still find the large portions at restaurants ridiculous. No one needs to eat 3 lbs of food at a single sitting.

I have gained 15 lbs. back but I'm at an okay weight for my height and build.

It's not complicated to lose weight but it does require some suffering, something which most of us won't put up with.

on January 23, 2006 12:13 PM
# Nina said:

You know, watch the "Requiem for a dream" movie... It shows some things about getting thinner.

on January 23, 2006 12:59 PM
# Neil T. said:

Nina: Erm, it's not the getting thinner that causes the effects shown in the film. The film is about drugs and the woman who goes insane does so because of some dodgy diet pills that she gets from backstreet doctors, not the actual act of becoming thin.

The article sounds like it was written to be tongue-in-cheek, but it is frightening how much American people are having to spend on treating obesity, which is a disease that is essentially self-inflicted. In the UK we have a welfare state (i.e. a national healthcare service funded by the government/taxes) but there's talk of making people pay for obesity treatment out of their own pockets.

on January 23, 2006 01:44 PM
# Jim said:

I lost 60 pounds five years ago and have kept if off ever since. Most people don't like my 'plan' however: Eat sixteen-hundred calories of nutritious food daily, no more, not much less. In addition, aerobically exercise forty-five minutes every day and strength train forty-five minutes most days. It's that simple. I gave up watching the evening news to fit in the exercise. The payoff in health and happiness is tremendous!

on January 23, 2006 01:45 PM
# Dustin Diaz said:

Jeremy, you should check out a song called "Underwear goes inside the pants" by Lazyboy. It's a great techno rant. Should be able to find it on iTunes or Y! music.

on January 23, 2006 02:41 PM
# grumpY! said:

we are hardwired to seek out and consume resources our bodies need. historically these have been relatively scarce, so our desire to gorge served us well in the past.

the problem is that now there is no scarcity. it is abundance that people cannot deal with, since this requires mental stamina to overcome genetic predispositions to consume, horde, and gorge. this is also why people have problems with credit cards, want mcmansions, feel the need to buy $15k televisions, etc.

on January 23, 2006 03:38 PM
# grumpY! said:

>> obesity, which is a disease that is essentially self-inflicted

obesity is a condition, not a disease

people call it a disease to abdicate reponsibility for their own behavior. addictions are failures of human willpower, although relativist thinking in the west has sought to assuage our guilt by casting these conditions as diseases so we feel better about our own weakness. yes there are a group of people genetically inclined to get fat due to glandular issues, but this group is very small.

on January 23, 2006 03:43 PM
# Meh said:

Why are former fat people so resentful to the currently fat? Give the guy a break.

on January 23, 2006 03:48 PM
# Jon said:

I think the main problem is that people have been conditioned to think that they have to spend money or do something special to lose weight. Some product or service has to be involved...

Really, all people have to do is eat a little healthier and exercise for 30-60 minutes a day and they'd be fine. It's better to do it earlier, before you build up the extra pounds, though, 'cuz they can be a bitch to burn off. (You have to burn something like 3500 extra calories to lose a pound.)

on January 23, 2006 03:57 PM
# kasia said:

The main problem is that most of what people eat is just bad, loaded with calories, fat and sodium... Most people get a real shock when they honestly look at the caloric and fat content of what they eat, not just guess at it.

on January 23, 2006 05:46 PM
# Ahmad said:

While it's true that the article you quoted is really silly, I think that you are missing something very important in your post, Jeremy, which is the human factor.

It's not just that food is easier to get now, but restaurants are actively trying to convince you to consume more and more food. They resort to psychology and choose color themes that would make you want to eat more. They spend a lot of money on advertising their food. They do it as a living.

You, on the other hand, are trying to be more active and conscious about it, but most of the time you will have many other things in your mind. They are much more determined, experienced and funded in this battle than you are. Add to that the fact that eating is a rewarding experience, at least in the short term. Food with high caloric contents is even more rewarding.

It's true that you canít blame guns for crime, but you would expect crime to increase if you had a ďshoot an innocent guy drive-inĒ everywhere you go. Besides, I hope that crime is not a rewarding experience for most people.


Exercise is an ugly hack. We were designed to spend a lot of calories walking around. Now we use cars, buses, elevators, etc and consume much less calories every day. The solution? To walk for an hour every day and end up in exactly the same place? We were using those calories to live our lives, now we just have to spend it on nothing?

Iím not pro-obesity or anything, Iím just trying to say something for the missing other extreme.

on January 23, 2006 08:35 PM
# jcartledge said:

[quote]The upside is nobody spends two hours a day cooking anymore.[/quote]

That's one of the tongue-in-cheek parts, right?

The fact is that we're becoming individually unnaccountable for the source and safety of our food, and ignorant of the basic processes required to keep us (individually and as a society) alive and healthy - obesity is the least of our worries.

on January 23, 2006 09:43 PM
# Yogish Baliga said:

In most of the documentaries, I have seen people blaming the genes for their fat figure. That is ridiculous. Where was this gene few years back? I did not know that gene can mutate so fast.

Apart from people not excercising and eating healthy food, other problem is food chains like McDonalds, Burger King etc. They simply don't want to provide the healthy food as providing the non-healthy food is cheaper for them and can get more profit out of it. After all everything boils down to investors and showing the profit on wallstreet.

on January 24, 2006 12:22 AM
# said:

"People don't want to exercise unless they're paid to do it."

Jeremy: And? People don't want to work without getting paid, either. They don't want to eat without it tasting good. They don't want to screw unless it feels right. This is life.

Fat people are surrounded by scumbags, everywhere in their lives, who mock them to their faces. Bastards who assume they're stupid because they're fat. Those who delight in making other people unhappy just because someone's physical shape doesn't match someone else's idealized vision. And they're pounded by marketing images, social constructs, and public institutions that make them feel inadequate and less-than-human. This, too, is life.

So if someone wants to write an article that says something on the subject other than, "hey, you fetid trolls, you make us sick," and some overweight chick or dude in Idaho realizes for a fraction of a second that maybe someone out there is thinking about people like him/her without hatred... well, y'know, maybe we can squeeze a little compassion into life, too.

It's worth a shot, right?

on January 24, 2006 12:32 AM
# dan isaacs said:

Hah! we don't have McMansions because we can afford them. We have them because our banks are more willing to let us try. :)

on January 24, 2006 04:56 AM
# The Ji Village News said:

Funny. We wrote on the same topic on the same day, but from very different angles:-)

Check out my posting on "You are fatter than before"

on January 24, 2006 08:55 AM
# The Ji Village News said:

By the way, I agree with your sentiments and reasoning on this post.

It would also be interesting to know more of our food supply. Where are the meat, fish, eggs, milk from? How much hormones, antibiotics, and other things were put in the food chain? Are they genetically altered simply to improve production quantity? I am not saying we should not use bio-technology or other technological advances in the food industry, but we need to be very careful with them.

on January 24, 2006 09:20 AM
# Richard Tallent said:

Rosenwald's article is a prime example of Broken Window Economics.

I'm 40 pounds overweight. It is a disease--one I caught over the past 7 years of digesting, on average, just 47 calories more than I metabolize per day. (Note I said "digesting", not "consuming"--I'm sure the latter is much higher and the digestive tract is not 100% efficient.) That said, I am fully responsible both for "catching" this disease, and I am physically capable of fighting it off. The label does not remove the responsibility.

on January 24, 2006 04:09 PM
# Adam S. said:

I'm surprised no one has mentioned this: the article makes it sound as thought obesity is a consequence of our growing affluence. In fact, obesity is particularly a public health crisis for the poor. Bad food is also cheap food, as any field trip to McDonald's and Whole Foods will make clear.

The article also contends that obesity is an inevitable consequence of our cushy white collar lifestyles. How then to explain the enormous rise in child obesity? Kids aren't buying McMansions or driving their SUVs to and from the mailbox. They are, however, spending increasing amounts of time in front of the TV and drinking vast quantities of soda.

Finally, the article implies that obesity is a natural part of a healthy, modern economy. But cross-cultural comparisons show pretty clearly that obesity is a consequence of dietary changes. Many countries enjoy strong economies, but it isn't until they switch over to an American diet (as increasingly, it seems they do) that they see a corresponding increase in their waist lines.

So, basically, this article is a crock. Obesity is a consequence of our diet and exercise habits (obviously), but those habits are in no way a necessary cause or consequence of our affluence.

on January 26, 2006 04:44 AM
# Kuas said:

55 pounds- have you noticed a difference in your average climb rates?

on January 26, 2006 11:20 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Not yet, but I hope to. :-)

on January 26, 2006 08:45 PM
# Scott Ellsworth said:

To quote Napoleon, 'Ask me for anything but time'.

Losing weight would be a good thing. I would love to be about thirty pounds lighter. I have been fighting that for years.

That said, it took my wife staying home with our first child to make a real change in diet, and two years of fairly aggressive daily exercise combined to get me nine pounds lighter. The big difference - time. I finally had time for a daily exercise routine thanks to telecommuting, and she had time to make meals that were healthy, with relatively little fat and junk.

I see two things that each person can do to encourage a healthier populace.

Step one: Encourage distributed companies. If your employer employs more than fifty people, see if they would be willing to spread out towards less expensive housing, in more locations. This opens up the possibility of people working near where they live, and thus spending less time on the road. Encourage telecommuting, and other things that free up the useless commute hours for something actually healthy.

Step two: Campaign against excessive work weeks. Occasional overtime happens, but many people I know routinely work ten or twenty percent more time than they get paid for. Sure, the job is often important, but it is rarely worth killing yourself over.

I honestly believe that if more people had the time to shop for and prepare healthy meals, they would eat less junk. Similarly, if their lives were not constantly booked solid, they might have the time to do more actual outside activity.


on January 26, 2006 11:35 PM
# Steve said:

I couldn't agree more! I'm so tired of hearing all sorts of excuses as to why someone is fat. It's simply a choice of priorities.

I was overweight most of my life, until one day about 4 yrs ago I decided that was enough. I cut junk out of my diet completely (have not had a french fry since), and began to exercise 30 minutes/day. In 2.5 months, I'd dropped from 200 lbs to 145. I wouldn't recommend such a drastic drop for everyone, but after consultations with doctors and blood tests, they all gave me a very strong green light.

Since then, I've picked up all sorts of adrenaline & adventure sports that I never could have even imagined before. I'm now having more fun enjoying life than I did in the previous 24yrs. I'm just glad I woke up before it was too late.

on January 30, 2006 01:19 AM
# Paul Jock said:

It intersring and very excyting

on February 3, 2006 12:46 AM
# Yogish Baliga said:

It is Feb 7th now. Where is the super secret for loosing weight? :-) Not that I want to know, but Shanti Braford must be waiting for it.

on February 7, 2006 07:08 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

It took a back seat to attending my grandmother's funeral, sorry.

on February 7, 2006 07:47 PM
# Andrew Milner said:

When any non-US citizen visits the US, the first impression, even at the airport has to be: "Jesus, what fat people." And then, "Top nation? You're having a laugh." Followed by: "American century? Decade more like, and that's being generous." So what am I trying to say? Obesity is a national disgrace. Youíre a laughing stock. US males on say the West Coast when considering a spouse or change of spouse, must be thinking: "I may not be God's gift to women, but I deserve better than this." Well, you accepted Japanese and Korean automobiles, so isn't a foreign-born spouse the next logical step? Unless you insist on 100% Caucasian children, there's almost nothing a Western women can offer that Asian women can't provide better and more frequently. And thereís the bonus of healthy meals. With such an obvious, albeit subjective, difference in the quality of the merchandise on offer, at this rate the Caucasian race is en-route to be subsumed by Asia. The ultimate aim of the White woman must be to pass her genes on to the next generation. But with so many female-headed, single-parent families, it's not going to happen. Daughters take their cue from mother: Namely, itís cool to hate men. So her becoming a mother is less likely. Sons either become gay or want something entirely different to their mother.
America: Land of the fat and the free. Not entirely convinced about the free part.
So how to diet: No half measures, no wimp salad diet, in fact no food at all. Announce you are going on a hunger strike over some crank cause. Like you won't eat while GWB remains president. Work out in the gym two hours everyday. That will kill the hunger pangs stone dead. And for back up, whisky will keep your mind off your stomach. Again as a distraction, try studying an academic subject. Physics was my bag. If you feel No.1 wife doesn't understand the difference between affection and caring, namely she's overfeeding you, and gets upset when you refuse to eat her meals: Well you have to leave home. Itís your life we are saving, here. Set up in your own apartment. Fill the dents and get a respray. Hair dyed and styled, teeth scaled and polished, up-date the wardrobe. But keep in mind pretty soon those pants will no longer fit you. Get yourself a new girl friend. Half your age, tall, model girl looks, model figure, English speaking (sort of). No problem here in Tokyo. Literally 10 a penny, because English gentleman is flavour of the month. Needs a little imagination to figure activities that don't involve eating, or at least you eating. But no matter how much she begs, explain you're too embarrassed to get your kit off and consummate the relationship until you've reduced weight and that spare tyre laughingly referred to as your waistline. Motivation is what itís about. Set something realistic: Like coming down 25kg and reducing the waist measurement by 25cm. I realise you guys use USCS, but you'll have to get into SI (metric) someday so why not start today. So there you have it ladies. A grim picture of what faces you. Not just a pariah nation, but a chronically overweight one gradually being subsumed by Asia. You lose weight when you expend more energy than you consume. One thing about the laws of physics: Theyíre non-negotiable. So suck it up. Misogynist? What me? Why so edgy baby doll?

on May 28, 2006 08:03 PM
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