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Showing 1-6 of 6 reviews(4 star)show all reviews
on June 29, 2003
About three-quarters of the way through this intensely felt jaunt through Krispy Kreme land and the Golden Arched environs of fat land America, journalist Greg Critser makes an interesting political observation. He's talking about Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton, recalling that Monica said the President always left his shirt untucked to hide his belly and how that was perhaps a connection between the two (their protruding bellies, that is). And then Critser reflects, "If the right wing in this country is still really moralistic about sex, the left is moralistic about food..." (p. 149)
He goes on to note that educated people are supposed to be in control of the amount of body fat they have. This observation is in tune with the disturbing truth he chronicles: namely those people from the lowest educational and socioeconomic levels of society are the ones becoming the fattest. He cites studies showing that the percentage of obese African, Hispanic, and Native Americans is higher than that of other groups, and that those people who are living at or near poverty levels are the most likely to be obese and are the most likely to have obese children. Yet Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton are not exactly candidates for remedial education or payday advances. What is going on?
Epidemic. Something as deadly as a killer virus is on the loose in America today, and although obesity is most prevalent at lower economic levels, it hits all segments of society. Since reading this book I have found myself eyeing the populace. Every time I pass by a Burger King or a Carl's Jr. or a McDonalds or a Taco Bell I check out the clientele, those walking up and those sitting high and large in their expensive SUVs at the drive-up window. And when I see them, I say to myself: they are being supersized.
Just how bad is it? According to a table on pages 182-183, in the year 2000 19.8 percent of Americans were obese. That's one in every five. This figure shot up from 12 percent in 1991. But it's even worse than it appears. According to figures on page four, 61 percent of Americans are overweight. That's most of us! And about "25 percent of all Americans under age nineteen are overweight." We have supersized ourselves into a health care nightmare in which the total cost of obesity to HMOs is "$345.9 million annually, or 41 percent of the total" for just eight obesity-related diseases. (p. 148) But the larger cost to our society in terms premature death, reduced quality of life, and cost of work days lost due to obesity cannot be measured, but in dollar terms is well into the hundreds of billions of dollars annually.
How did it happen? First, as Critser observes, food got cheap, relatively speaking, thanks to the growth of big agriculture. And then came the use of corn syrup (fructose) in sodas and other fast and snack foods. This may have been the most significant development of all because fructose, according to Critser, is used by the body differently than other sugars and leads to changes in fat oxidation, insulin resistance and increased fat storage often resulting in Type 2 diabetes. (See pages 136-139 for how this apparently works.) Type 2 diabetes, long a threat to middle-aged, overweight men and women, is now a threat to children. Critser also points to the invasion of our schools by snack and fast food vendors as fostering the epidemic. They seduced financially-strapped school districts into allowing them to pepper the school with their ads and their products. TV advertising of junk foods to kids and the rise of sedentary video games are other factors. Shorter and non-existent physical education classes at our schools is perhaps as big a factor as any.
Furthermore, quite frankly, we were looking the other way. In particular, while feminists and others were obsessing over anorexia and bulimia (a tragic but minuscule problem compared to obesity) and calling fat a feminist issue (p. 123), the real truth of a fat epidemic was sweeping the land. While fashion magazines and Hollywood were being condemned for giving women body image problems, the real media blitz was going on all around us, especially on Saturday morning TV where the fast and junk food purveyors were indoctrinating our children into supersizing themselves.
What's to be done? Will the purveyors of high-fat, high-fructose foods be treated like the tobacco industry, their advertising drastically curtailed and their products demonized? Will home owners allow themselves to be taxed enough to pay for real physical education classes in our schools? Will being fat become such a social stigma that people will take it upon themselves to slim down? Critser sees education and parental involvement as the key to helping our kids avoid becoming overweight. I agree and believe that it will take nothing less than a sea change in our values from the worship of all things big to an appreciation of modesty and restraint and a realization that bigger is not necessarily better.
In addition to this well presented and readable book, I also highly recommend The Hungry Gene: The Science of Fat and the Future of Thin (2002) by Ellen Ruppel Shell for another view on the epidemic.
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on June 15, 2003
Can I first just say, I LOVE the cover illustrations! The oh-so-sweet and pretty (but venemous) foodstuffs surrounding the perfect (placated?) baby. Very clever.
Now the book. Sometimes it gets a little too technical and I had to make an effort to read every line instead of glossing past the statistics to get to the point. All-in-all though, it's very interesting, and some of the statistics are truly shocking. The phenomena behind our increase in obesity was particularly interesting to me, because I have noticed it myself over the past 20 years and wondered what was going on. When I was young, hardly any kids were fat, and now there are so many overweight children (and, of course, adults.) It used to be mainly older sedentary people who gained weight, not young people. And any observant person can see it's primarily to do with junk food making it into the mainstream, but the author manages to explain the background and politics behind it, and takes it down to 2 or 3 of the biggest "evils" in our food system that have triggered the alarming cycle. Even if you think you already understand most of the issues, it's interesting to read some of the background and realize that we've been taken for a bit of a ride. It made my resolve even stronger not to fall prey to the soda, snack, and fast-food industries.
I was also interested in the various theories and statistics on how to deal with weight issues for children - whether to let children naturally regulate themselves or whether parents should impose rules around food and eating. If you're a parent, and you're trying to raise your children without food issues and eating problems, this book may provide some insight to help. Food for thought, anyway....
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For those who have given little (if any) thought to obesity in the United States, Critser provides a wealth of information in this volume. I am impressed by the nature and extent of his research, less impressed by a few of his conclusions based on that research. He notes that 61% of Americans "are overweight enough to begin experiencing health problems as a direct result of that weight." Moreover, that "25% of those under 19 are overweight or obese." Critser offers a biological explanation for such alarming statistics (e.g. metabolic problems caused by increased consumption of fructose) during the emergence of what he calls a "new boundary-free culture" of self-gratification. Only in an affluent society such as ours could people afford to eat out (on average) three of every five meals when not munching on sugar- and fat-rich snack foods. Only in an affluent society such as ours could so many people afford to join and then remain a member of a fitness center.
Critser has done an excellent job of gathering, in a single source, so much information about these and other issues. Moderation is generally the best policy for most human activities. Perhaps after reading this book, those in urgent need of more physical exercise and/or healthier nutrition will take appropriate action. In most instances, it won't be easy. I have heard many people ask "Why is that everything that's so bad for me to eat tastes so good?" Good question. Critser is well-prepared to answer it. Even then, I suspect, the population of Fat Land will -- like most waist lines -- increase.
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While it is indeed possible that some of the dietary recommendations in this book do not reflect the latest thinking, it is a plainly obvious to those who travel that Americans are fat and getting fatter. Bickering about the minutiae is pointless, those who have been following this topic for any time will know that the standard wisdom concerning nutrition is in a constant state of turmoil.
While it is sometimes difficult to both avoid junk foods and exercise adequately, those that do so consistently feel better, look healthier, are more stress resistant and are over all happier. Any study purporting to show the opposite does so only via faulty experimental design.
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on February 10, 2004
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. Will this book change your life like it did for me? Probably not, but it will empower you to question what goes into your tummy. Critser collects a wide range of facts, anecdotes, and myths about sugars, sodas, and fast food. In the end, you'll wonder if it's all really bad for you or if you've just been making bad choices.
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Great book on the American problem of obesity. Now if only getting out of this mess can go as easily (and painlessly) as we got into it.
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