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Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World [Hardcover]

Greg Critser
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 14 2003
What in American society has changed so dramatically that nearly 60 percent of us are now overweight, plunging the nation into what the surgeon general calls an "epidemic of obesity"? Greg Critser engages every aspect of American life - class, politics, culture, and economics - to show how we have made ourselves the second fattest people on the planet (after South Sea Islanders).

Fat Land highlights the groundbreaking research that implicates cheap fats and sugars as the alarming new metabolic factor making our calories stick and shows how and why children are too often the chief metabolic victims of such foods. No one else writing on fat America takes as hard a line as Critser on the institutionalized lies we've been telling ourselves about how much we can eat and how little we can exercise. His expose of the Los Angeles schools' opening of the nutritional floodgates in the lunchroom and his examination of the political and cultural forces that have set the bar on American fitness low and then lower, are both discerning reporting and impassioned wake-up calls.

Disarmingly funny, Fat Land leaves no diet book - including Dr. Atkins's - unturned. Fashions, both leisure and street, and American-style religion are subject to Critser's gimlet eye as well. Memorably, Fat Land takes on baby-boomer parenting shibboleths - that young children won't eat past the point of being full and that the dinner table isn't the place to talk about food rules - and gives advice many families will use to lose.

Critser's brilliantly drawn futuristic portrait of a Fat America just around the corner and his all too contemporary foray into the diabetes ward of a major children's hospital make Fat Land a chilling but brilliantly rendered portrait of the cost in human lives - many of them very young lives - of America's obesity epidemic.

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From Publishers Weekly

You reap what you sow. According to Critser, a leading journalist on health and obesity, America about 30 years ago went crazy sowing corn. Determined to satisfy an American public that "wanted what it wanted when it wanted it," agriculture secretary Earl Butz determined to lower American food prices by ending restrictions on trade and growing. The superabundance of cheap corn that resulted inspired Japanese scientists to invent a cheap sweetener called "high fructose corn syrup." This sweetener made food look and taste so great that it soon found its way into everything from bread to soda pop. Researchers ignored the way the stuff seemed to trigger fat storage. In his illuminating first book (which began life as a cover story for Harper's Magazine), Critser details what happened as this river of corn syrup (and cheap, lardlike palm oil) met with a fast-food marketing strategy that prized sales-via supersized "value" meals-over quality or conscience. The surgeon general has declared obesity an epidemic. About 61% of Americans are now overweight-20% of us are obese. Type 2 (i.e., fat-related) diabetes is exploding, even among children. Critser vividly describes the physical suffering that comes from being fat. He shows how the poor become the fattest, victimized above all by the lack of awareness. Critser's book is a good first step in rectifying that. In vivid prose conveying the urgency of the situation, with just the right amount of detail for general readers, Critser tells a story that they won't be able to shake when they pass the soda pop aisle in the supermarket. This book should attract a wide readership.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Childhood obesity, diabetes, and related illnesses are becoming major health problems in America. Nutrition journalist Critser presents a critical analysis of the many social and economic factors that make Americans, contrary to the book's subtitle, the second-fattest people in the world (the South Sea Islanders are fatter). He blames parents' reluctance to monitor their children's eating habits; the marketing tactics of fast-food companies, which influence us to overeat; the preponderance of fad diets; the phasing out of physical education programs in schools; and the sale of fast foods at schools to save money on dining facilities. Lower-income families have higher rates of obesity regardless of race, ethnicity, and gender, which the author attributes to lack of information about diet and exercise and the wide diversity of cultural beliefs about weight, body size, and self-esteem. Critser urges Americans to tackle obesity head on, concluding with descriptions of initiatives that worked when communities launched a cooperative effort to change their eating habits and avoid the path to lifelong obesity. An important work that belongs in all nutrition and public health collections. [See also Robert Pool's excellent Fat: Fighting the Obesity Epidemic and Eric Schlosser's scathing Fast Food Nation.-Ed.]-Irwin Weintraub, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., New Yor.
--Irwin Weintraub, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., New York
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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First Sentence
EARL BUTZ, nominated by Richard Nixon in 1971 to be the eighteenth secretary of agriculture, conjured the airs of a courtly midwestern grandfather, the kind who liked to show up at Sunday dinner, give the blessing, lecture the grandchildren about patriotism, free trade, the goodness of farm life, and the evils that threatened such a life - and then go out to the backyard and tell off-color jokes to the assembled adults. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Less Filling July 9 2004
A worthwhile topic, disappointingly rendered, especially if you've read "Fast Food Nation".
Critser goes into useful levels of detail on tantalizingly few topics. Too many of his other points are supported only anecdotally, or worse, because-he-said-so.
He does make at least a few points excellently: the blistering critique of our feel-good fat-positive self-esteem etiquette nonsense, that prevents us from warning our friends and ourselves when we are literally gorging ourselves to death, was right on the mark and needed saying. I attended a women's college during a high-level eating disorder scare, and found it surprising and eye-opening to learn that the rates of anorexia and bulimia are far lower than our self-help culture has suggested. Certainly it is useful for everyone to place anorexia and bulimia in proper perspective alongside the skyrocketing rates of obesity, and ask ourselves what we've gained for conceding one in the name of fighting the others. (He does not detail, but in later years it has also become part of the thinking on eating disorders that they are primarily mental illnesses related to control and trauma, not food. We should stop treating them as being about food, and start treating obesity, which is about food!) And, the chapter on the "branding" of food and drink in our schools should be a wake-up call for parents and school boards nationwide.
Unfortunately, too many other topics represent missed opportunities or simply misfires. Sure, his high fructose corn syrup theory is supported by some initial dietary research, but so were all the other fad diets he himself decries. The opening chapter on America's food subsidies and ag policies is frustratingly thin and primarily devoted to an amusing character study of Mr.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Pseudo-science with a grain of truth May 12 2004
By A Customer
Welcome, Savage Love readers, to the battlegrounds concerning this overpraised book.
Mr. Critser has one good, solid point in Fat Land: American society has largely decided that it is bad form to shame someone for obesity. This much I'll give him, especially when there are stores like Torrid, selling skimpy clothing that would look too revealing on girls with svelte builds.
But when he gets into his bizarre political diatribes about high-fructose corn syrup, palm oil and the Nixon administration, Critser loses me. He's just plain wrong about corn syrup's being a somehow magically diabolical chemical that forces your body to pack on extra fat. That's junk straight out of the fad diet playbook, and any nutritionist knows it. Feed rats 500 calories of pure corn syrup, lard or whey protein, and they're going to gain the same amount of weight. These discussions are so ignorant that it bores me even to entertain them.
Look, the American obesity problem is easy to figure out:
1. Animals biologically crave the basics: sugar, starch, protein and fat, in as concentrated a form as possible. That's pretty much what you get in a hamburger and a soda. Pure starch (the bun), pure protein and fat (the patty), and pure sugar (the drink). No shock there that this meal is popular. It's hard-wired into us to desire our food in such an efficient delivery system. And it's only been in the past 50 years or so that it's been feasible to get meals like this cheaply.
2. The poor are fatter than the rich because the rich are generally there because of their superior impulse control. Does it surprise anyone that a person who's smart enough to figure out how compound interest works is also probably smart enough not to stuff his guts with chili-cheese burritos and Whoppers every day?
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3.0 out of 5 stars BRING BACK ANOREXIA! May 1 2004
By A Customer
I was actually going to buy this book until I read the author's personal account of the events which led him to write it. Gee this is the first time I've heard the usual bizarrely inconsistent white liberal middle class guilt applied over easily lost weight!(?!! was this guy actually over weight?! Heroin has been proven easier to beat than food addictions like sugar. There is nothing easy about it-tragic that he is too self-defeating/effacing to celebrate such a feat!) Like most self-absorbed and self-obsessed/self-loathing white liberals, his own impossible and contradictory values lead him to blame the outcome such values often create/set up: This relentless media obsession over weight and fitness to a degree that is just not possible for most has led to this revolving and hopeless diabesity epidemic in the first place. More to the point and "culturally relative," fat is in the eye of the beholder. IT is upper class white culture that conflates emaciated thinnes (to the point where "attractive" women resemble adolescent boys) with beauty. (Why else would someone possessing the body of a Modern Marilyn Monroe, such as Kate Winslet, be compared to the elephant woman?) It is also those same irresponsible/"priviliged" sloths in power that he criticizes that obsess on the news nightly now about America's obesity epidemic-even speaking hopefully about the possible trend of insurance co.s discriminating against the obese and teachers "constructively" shaming fat children. Upper class white liberals like him are the original fat fattists who have driven two eating disorders which are really opposite sides of the same coin: Anorexia/Bulimia in the 80s and early '90s [the concern for which he actually laments in his account! Read more ›
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars We've all got to change
Reading this book really opened my eyes. I've been trying my whole life to exercise and eat right, but I never had the right motivation. Read more
Published on June 19 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable, sober-minded book--and I am a fatty
I was prepared to hate this writer, given the vitriol on this site. But once I read the book, I realized he was right: it's one thing for fact acceptance people like myself to want... Read more
Published on May 19 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars Supersized Read
I felt guilty sitting on the couch reading this book. So I upped my cardiovascular workouts and began weight training. Then I questioned the food I put into my mouth. Read more
Published on Feb. 10 2004 by Jason A. Tselentis
5.0 out of 5 stars Crucial, and dense with detail
Okay, pardon the pun in the "dense in detail". However, this is a comprehensive, extensively researched and documented study of American obesity, and plowing through the numerous... Read more
Published on Jan. 28 2004 by Michael K. McKeon
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, quick read.
"Fat Land" is a fascinating and quick read, very much in the same spirit as "Fast Food Nation." Instead of exposing one particular industry, like "Fast", this book seeks to answer... Read more
Published on Jan. 11 2004 by Alex Nichols, author of Shadow Rock
I can't believe that horrible review bashing the author of this book. This is the most amazing and revealing book I have ever read. Read more
Published on Dec 16 2003 by robert p cordova
5.0 out of 5 stars A very easy read, packed with hard facts
All those assertions and conclusions! Are any of them substantiated? Yes! Mr. Critser goes to great lengths to quote his sources in the ample appendices. Read more
Published on Nov. 20 2003 by John Tangney
5.0 out of 5 stars A provocative, well-researched analysis of U.S. obesity!!
FATLAND is one of the most fascinating books I have read in a long time. I give Critser big-time credit for a massive amount of research behind his book, plus having the courage... Read more
Published on Nov. 9 2003 by Marchez Vite
1.0 out of 5 stars Extremely Disappointing Book from Amateurish "Journalist"
There are interesting nuggets of information in this book, but I found myself annoyed while reading most of this book due to the author's biased and unprofessional approach to... Read more
Published on Nov. 2 2003 by Ursula
5.0 out of 5 stars Feed your mind
A simply fascinating (and quick) read. Critser covers a wide arrange of topics related to Americans' widening behinds, from cheap (and mass produced) sweeteners, super-sizing meals... Read more
Published on Nov. 1 2003 by Basbenee
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