Monday, January 23, 2006

Dr. Jones: The infantilization of obesity

Unsurprisingly, a professor of media studies blames advertising and greedy companies for the new wave of fatness in a new Slate article....

But are people victims or choosers? Economists tend to focus on the latter possibility: People face choices, and then go with their best option.

So, if people have put on more weight in recent decades (and they have), how did their list of choices change? Well, we got richer: A lot richer. And part of what we've done with the wealth is buy more food (which helped us put on weight) and more health care (which helped us to mitigate the side-effects of that extra weight). And who, may I ask, are you to criticize Americans for making that choice?

Yes, yes, yes, I know the comebacks: Health care is partially government-funded, so there are free-rider problems, and we know that people have big problems with self-control. But even if those problems didn't exist, don't you think that most human beings--real people, your friends and neighbors--would use this immense wealth to just kick back, live it up, and put on some pounds?

I mean, let's be real: After your looks start failing in your 20's or 30's, what's the real benefit to looking good? Thin and old is, for most folks, just as ugly as fat and old, so you're not going to get that much attention from potential intimiate partners anyway. And what's the benefit to most Americans of living a few extra years? As Denis Leary used to say about smoking:
[People say,] "Well you know. Smoking takes ten years off your life." Well it's the ten worst years, isn't it folks? It's the ones at the end! It's the wheelchair kidney dialysis f**king years. You can have those years!
He makes a valid point. There are a select few who actually get something done in their old age, something that they find enjoyable and worthwhile, but God, a nice cheeseburger just sounds so much better than another week listening to Aunt Mabel tell me that same d**n story about the time at the State Fair when she won second prize for the best calf in Mendicino County. Dear God, please let me off the bus!

P.S. If you want some science on this instead of a rant, there are a couple of nice treatments here and here on the burgeoning field of the economics of obesity. I especially recommend the latter link, which links to a Glaeser et al. piece, "Why have Americans become more obese?" Apparently, it's due to snacking, not bigger meals.

P.P.S. Kipnis's book, Against Love: A Polemic, actually seems quite interesting. A reminder that just because you're good in one field, that doesn't mean you're good in another....

ORIGINALLY Posted by Garett Jones at 10/31/2005 05:22:00 PM


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