"If you go with the flow in America today," says Thomas Freiden of the CDC, "you'll end up obese." He means that obesity is a side effect of progress. But not just progress: a particularly Western version of progress that we're exporting to the rest of the world. Enormous advances in food preparation and cultivation technology. Media culture and sedentary lifestyles that participate in it. A collective choice, perhaps embedded in our country's frontier roots, to keep expanding, to act as if nothing is too big to fail.But there have been consequences. Our bodies were programmed to convert sugar into fat and store it long before Euripides made fun of fat people; fat people have been around since humans have been walking the earth. But obesity is something different. It is an extreme manifestation of the condition of being fat, and it's been around for about 30 years. Yes, obesity becomes a "something" when scientists and policy-makers decide to call it a something, but reliable enough records exist to show that whatever this thing is, its nature changed dramatically as the age of Ronald Reagan began. (I'm not blaming Reagan, Mr. Norquist, so keep your gun in your holster.)
When you go back to that juncture in history, a lot of different things happened; a lot of choices were made; a lot of forces intersected. The chronic stress of people who live in the inner cities, in ghettos, or in desperately poor rural areas intersected with the availability of cheap, emotionally satisfying and physically pleasing food. A generation of children born into dysfunctional families themselves began to have children, and didn't -- couldn't -- raise them to eat properly. The ubiquity of advertising, Congress's deference to industry, enormously wasteful corn subsidies, the microwave and the VCR, social stratification, rising incomes and unequal access to material resources like good health care and doctors were all factors, too.