I will say goodbye for now to this topic, which began with an offhand mention that America didn't seem as fat as I "expected" after three years away. An unprecedented amount of mail came in; below and after the jump, samples of some of the themes I hadn't previously gotten to. Thanks for the responses.
Eating as an available pleasure. From a reader in South Dakota:
"An overlooked connection between obesity and class, I believe, stems from varying quantity of personal enjoyment and anticipation of enjoyment.
"It is one thing for a successful, financially comfortable, socially accepted and respected person who has multiple things happening every day that are pleasurable (golf, driving a nice car, nice home, stylish clothing, success at work, interesting social events, kids doing well, planning vacations, etc) to take just one pleasurable aspect of life (overeating) and sacrifice some of that pleasure for the good result of losing weight.
"Now, for people struggling financially and socially, trying to just get through the day and keep their lives together to varying degrees...their meals are often the only consistently happy and pleasurable events they can count on each day.
"Obviously, a generalization. But, if one gets up and faces a day with a tedious and unfulfilling job, not much money to spend on anything but necessities, and no "fun" things ahead, how much more difficult it is for that person to also think ahead to a day of denying themselves the pleasure of their mealtimes...."
The processed-food factor:
"I was quite surprised to note the glaring lack of an obvious contributing major factor in your recent post on obesity: processed foods.
"I was first struck by the weight of this factor (pun intended) during a trip to Buenos Aires a couple of years ago. During my stay, I was absolutely astonished to find such a small percentage of fat people given that:
"a) the per-capita consumption of meat (in Argentina) is the highest in the world.