Fat Folks

by Russ Roberts on September 25, 2006

in Health

In the latest podcast EconTalk, Darius Lakdawalla and I discuss just how much fatter Americans are than they once were and why. Turns out, it’s not McDonald’s fault. We also discuss the role of norms, the changing nature of the workforce, the technology of barbecue potato chips. He has a very nice insight that in the past, we were paid to exercise on the job and now we pay for the opportunity to exercise. Listen to it here.

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{ 9 comments }

Psycho Dude September 25, 2006 at 9:47 am

Although it is not completely to blaim on McDonalds, they are part of the problem. If it wasn't for companies like McDonalds to work in on our desire for fat food, if you can even still call it that, there wouldn't be that much to eat by the people to begin with.

A combination of multiple factors together is what creates obesity, but interesting is to see that with the introduction of fast food chains and snack food into countries where it wasn't present before, the amount of obese people grows just as fast.

JohnDewey September 25, 2006 at 12:20 pm

psycho dude,

McDonalds's just gives people what they want. Over the past 25 years, McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King, Pizza hut, and most other fast food chains have offered various reduced calorie and healthy alternatives. (Remember the McLean Deluze?). Almost none have been commecially successful.

Processed food manufacturers have tried as well. Some products have survived. But most were dropped for lack of demand.

Beverage manufacturers produce dozens of diet drinks. But at every supermarket in every city, one can see mothers continually loading up shopping carts with all sorts of sugary drinks for their kids.

The problem is not McDonald's or Coca-Cola or General Mills, Psycho Dude. It's the consuming public that doesn't seem to give a damn about their health or about the health of their children.

Eric Hanneken September 25, 2006 at 1:55 pm

I've been a member of a health club for several years, and I often think about how much energy is wasted there. Every day, hundreds of people exert themselves to produce nothing but useless motion, noise, and heat. Couldn't exercise machines be designed to put some of that work back into the electricity grid? Maybe health clubs could even be self-powered.

KRM September 25, 2006 at 6:09 pm

I believe that this problem is a combination of a variety of variables: Peoples income, hours worked a day, frequency of lunch breaks, availability of healthy alternatives, mode of transportation, and so forth. Coming from an urban setting, I think that fast-food franchises thrive here because people are always on the move. There isn't enough time in the day to sit down and be served a dinner (which may or may not be a healthy alternative anyways). Instead we need to eat a lunch within 30 minutes to an hour, and then get back to work. Furthermore, I cannot blame a person for wanting to save money on something they consume all day and every day. Food is such a common commodity that someone who is on a fixed or limited income does not want to spend thirty or forty dollars a day on food. The more food that they can buy for as little money as possible, the better off they are financially. Fast-food chains are not capitalizing off of peoples desire for fatty foods, they're capitalizing off of their desire for good tasting cheap food. Lean, steamed, grilled, does not taste as good as buttery and deep fried. When you eat something delicious and filling for cheap, you think that you did what's best for your bank account. Should people be conscious of their eating habits and lifestyle? Absolutely, and only they are responsible for that. But I wouldn't place the blame on fastfood restaurants either. They have tried supplying healthy foods (as noted above), but the demand wasn't there until recently. Hopefully we can see a trend towards healthier lifestyles in light of the national trends of obesity

Teri Pittman September 25, 2006 at 6:29 pm

I have a challenge for you. See how many things you can buy WITHOUT added corn syrup. Really. It's even in lunch meat. It's the reason for the out of control weight gain and rise in diabetes. All you have to do is look at what people really eat. It's all highly processed carbs with the addition of corn syrup.

KRM September 25, 2006 at 7:06 pm

I think we all know why corn syrup is so prevalent in the United States…. that is a result of the protectionist policies of our government. Perhaps we should just drop the sugar quota…
http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2006/08/hfcs_and_the_su.html

Adam Gifford September 25, 2006 at 7:12 pm

Actually, a news feature in the Sept. 21, issue of Nature, provides evidence that an overall decline in the hours spent in sleep—from 8-9 in 1960 to less than 7 today—may be contributing to the obesity problem in the US and the rest of the developed world. The article also discusses possible biological links between sleep and obesity.

ben September 26, 2006 at 12:04 am

What problem?

People are choosing the pleasure of high calorie food over the pleasure of lean bodies and longer lives.

That is their informed choice. Obesity is to be celebrated as an expression of individual freedom.

There is a problem only to the extent that people do not realize there is a relationship between their weight and that next cheeseburger.

Aaron Krowne September 26, 2006 at 1:10 am

Teri Pittman:

Damn corn subsidies!

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