Why Americans are fat

The New Yorker wades into the age-old journalistic conundrum of answering the mystery of American’s collective fatness.  It’s a good ploy for pageviews

I’m not an expert, but I understand the strain that overeating sugary and chemical-processed foods, lack of exercise, bad genetics, high-fructose corn syrup and several other factors have on my flabby torso. 

The problem with this latest attempt by the New Yorker is that they don’t really seem to care about breaking new ground. 

In America today, by contrast, obtaining calories is very nearly effortless; as Power and Schulkin observe, with a few dollars it’s possible to go to the grocery store and purchase enough sugar or vegetable oil to fulfill the average person’s energy requirements for a week. The result is what’s known as the “mismatch paradigm.” The human body is “mismatched” to the human situation. “We evolved on the savannahs of Africa,” Power and Schulkin write. “We now live in Candyland.”

The evolutionary account of obesity is a powerful one—indeed, almost too powerful. If, as Power and Schulkin contend, humans are genetically programmed to put on weight whenever they encounter plenty, it would seem that by this point virtually everyone in America should be fat. Meanwhile, several million years of hominid evolution can’t explain why it is just in the past few decades that waistlines have expanded.

The most alarming thing for me is the size of food portions when you eat out.  Everything is three or four times as much as you should be eating in restaurants and forget eating at the movie theater.  The small popcorn and small soda are the equivalent of the large 10 years ago.  Everything is enormous. 

Before McDonald’s discovered the power of re-portioning, it offered just a small bag of French fries, which contained two hundred calories. Today, a small order of fries has two hundred and thirty calories, and a large order five hundred. (Add fifteen calories for each package of ketchup.) Similarly, a McDonald’s soda used to be eight ounces. Today, a small soda is sixteen ounces (a hundred and fifty calories), and a large soda is thirty-two ounces (three hundred calories). Perhaps owing to the influence of fast-food culture, up-sizing has by now spread to all sorts of other venues. In a 2002 study, Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University, and Lisa Young, an adjunct there, examined the offerings, past and present, at American supermarkets. They found that during the nineteen-eighties the amount of food that was counted as a single serving increased rapidly. A similar jump showed up in cookbooks; when the researchers compared dessert recipes in old and new editions of volumes like “The Joy of Cooking,” they discovered that, even in cases where the recipes themselves had remained unchanged, the predicted number of servings had shrunk. According to the federally supported National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the bagels that Americans eat have in the past twenty years swelled from a hundred and forty to three hundred and fifty calories each. If, as Wansink argues, people are relying on external cues to determine their consumption, then the new, bigger bagel is sneaking in an additional two hundred and ten calories. For someone who is in the habit of eating a bagel a day, these extra calories translate into a weight gain of more than a pound a month.

These articles always remind me of something food journalist Michael Pollian says, and I’m paraphrasing here, but it’s a good place to start regarding your dietary intake: don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.

In otherwords, if it’s microwavable, instant, processed, prepared, frozen, comes with food coloring or additives, it isn’t food.

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