What we don't know about obesity

As I've written before, we actually don't know much at all about obesity and why diets are such miserable failures and what makes people compelled to eat. Yet I continue to read stuff wherein the author seems sure she has the answer to why people are obese.

In this article questioning why Southerners are fatter than the rest of the country, a definitive answer is claimed:

So there you have it. Southerners have little access to healthy food and limited means with which to purchase it. It's hard for them to exercise outdoors, and even when they do have the opportunity, it's so hot, they don't want to.

This article also acknowledges that the rate of obesity is increasing. If obesity is increasing, and the above paragraph lists the reasons why people are obese, shouldn't all or some of those factors have gotten worse, too? I mean, if obesity is caused by heat, and obesity rises, shouldn't heat have gotten worse? Were Mississippians richer 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago? Was it significantly less hot? Was there better public transportation (one of the ways in which the article suggests Northerners get more exercise)? I'm pretty sure the diet of Mississippi 10, 20 years ago was somewhat different than today...so maybe that's the cause. But it's far from clear. A Southerner's diet in the 1960's does not seem to be a model for avoiding obesity, unless the foods that cause obesity are not what we believe them to be (which is actually what I suspect). It certainly can't be stated with nearly the assurance that this author has.

So please. Let us have a little humility about what we don't know about obesity. Who knows, it might go hand-in-hand with a little less contempt for fat people.


  1. Elizabeth, fast food, air conditioning, disappearence of factory jobs all had an effect.
    When people worked all day on their feet in a factory, they stayed thinner. It ain't the heat, you don't see many fat Vietnamese, or Cantonese. It is diet and exercise.
    Of course Southerners have access to healthy foods, they simply don't chooose to eat it, if they asked for it, stores would provide it. Now fat doesn't alwasy mean unhealthy, many Mexicans are fat but don't suffer the same adverse affects. Mexicans get the exercise, they have a pretty bad diet though.
    Many Americans are both fat and lazy, I think it is a false humility to say we don't know that is why they are fat. I know why I myself can spare to lose a good 20 pounds, I eat too much junk and don't exercise enough. When I lived in Asia I stripped down to 135 pounds, vegies, rice, exercise, when I left I gained 50 pounds over the past 5 years. Really, no mystery.


  2. Hmmmm...I wrote a response to this, and it's not here. Forgive me if it suddenly shows up and I've responded twice. Suffice it to say, what you mention has been bandied about as a possible explanation or the rise in obesity, but not definitively linked. More importantly, I want to know why if the answer to obesity is as simple as calories in, calories out, it is much easier to kick heroin than it is to maintain a weight loss. Eating few calories and exercising more is the answer, maybe. But why is it near impossible to do that over the long haul? I don't believe that heroin addicts are that much more motivated than are fat people. (I say this as a person who is one of very very few who has lost a good amount of weight and kept it off for about a decade.)

  3. Elizabeth, our metabolism slows as we age as does our energy level so long haul, yeah, it will be tough, the trick is to keep the weight gain at a manageable level, not to stay the same weight forever.