Fear of a Fat Planet


Ezra Klein called attention earlier today to some alarming predictions about the future of the American waistline. Often when people contemplate the unsound eating habits of the average American they suggest that the typical diet of Mediterranean countries would be a better model to emulate. Unfortunately John Boonstra notes that the reverse seems to be happening and Mediterranean people are shifting to American-style larger portions, more meat, and worse health outcomes.

The proximate cause is that these traditionally middle income countries are getting rich, and thus adopting the bad eating habits of richer countries. All of which points to a fairly profound challenge. Everyone understands that GDP is not the be-all and end-all of human flourishing. But still, typically as countries get richer you see an amelioration of conditions across the board. Beyond a certain point, however, this badly breaks down with regard to certain aspects of diet and public health. Our bodies are programmed to strongly desire certain kinds of foodstuffs that are assumed to be objectively scarce. Wealth undermines that assumption of scarcity in ways that are extremely deleterious to human well-being.

The good news, such as it is, is that we have a very robust tradition of government intervention in the agricultural sector. No free marketeers on the farm, no laissez faire in the refrigerator. Meaning that instead of our current policies, which are designed to do God-knows-what, we could have policies that discouraged the production and consumption of delicious French Fries, Combos, and steak and encouraged the production and consumption of not-so-delicious vegetables and quinoa.

Photo by Flickr user Jimmy MacDonald used under a Creative Commons license