Wednesday, September 12, 2007

It's a Fat World, er, Country, But Don't Blame Us

This week, Gina Kolata of The Times continues her mission to assure us that if we're overweight, it's Not Our Fault.

It's not! Truly!

Don't even start with that nonsense about diet and exercise. Moderate exercise makes very little difference, she says, because our brains want us to be a particular weight and will make sure that we stay at or about it. And crappy calorie-packed food isn't the problem because American never ate all that well, when you think about it. So while diet and exercise matter somewhat, it's really a lot more complicated than that.

For instance:

According to several animal studies, conditions during pregnancy, including the mother’s diet, may determine how fat the offspring are as adults. Human studies have shown that women who eat little in pregnancy, surprisingly, more often have children who grow into fat adults. More than a dozen studies have found that children are more likely to be fat if their mothers smoke during pregnancy.

The research is just beginning, true, but already it has upended some hoary myths about dieting. The body establishes its optimal weight early on, perhaps even before birth, and defends it vigorously through adulthood. As a result, weight control is difficult for most of us. And obesity, the terrible new epidemic of the developed world, is almost impossible to cure.

OK, stop. I've had enough of this. While acknowledging that, hey, she's the science writer and I'm not, I'd like to ask a simple clarifying question.

Even given that everything she says is true, and I have no reason to believe that it's not, why is it that people in other cultures are thinner, and that Americans in earlier decades were thinner? Surely we modern-day Americans aren't so unlucky as to be walking around with post-modern, fitness-sabotaging brains, while everybody else gets the regular old brains that somehow allow them to stay within normal weight ranges? Same goes for pregnancy and any other biological factors that supposedly tip the scales, so to speak, against us. These factors aren't new, and aren't specific to our very fat American society. Something changed somewhere, and it seems pretty obvious what it is.

What I wonder is why Kolata, who's written a whole book on why we should accept our fatness instead of trying to fight it, is so interested in letting us all off the hook.

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