Food stamps will buy any type of food, including powdered donuts, Snickers bars, Diet Coke, and organic cucumbers. I get $526—the max—deposited into my food stamp account each month to spend on anything but prepackaged and ready-to-eat meals, the kind of stuff you’d get at Target’s in-store deli or café. Alcohol and cigarettes are verboten too. I’m surprised to learn that seed packets are on the approved food stamp list, but I’ve never bought any. The planting, watering and waiting would take up too much time—an equally precious commodity.
Poverty can’t be recognized in any outward sign, though it has its stereotypical markers: ratty clothes, ratty purse, ratty wallet, ratty kids with food-stained faces running wild at the end of the checkout line.
And obesity. It’s another sign of poverty that initially confounded me. If you’re poor, how can you be fat? Wouldn’t you be skinny because you can’t afford enough to eat?
But shopping proved my logic faulty. I can buy a lot more Mrs. Baird’s powdered donuts at $2 a bag than organic cucumbers at $2.25 apiece. I’ve got a family of three to feed. Organic cucumbers aren’t going to cut it.
Buying “junk food” with food stamps is a paradox that Congress weighed in 2008. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website, “Several times in the history of SNAP, Congress had considered placing limits on the types of food that could be purchased with program benefits. However, they concluded that designating foods as luxury or non-nutritious would be administratively costly and burdensome.”
Unless junk food is taken off the list of eligible food items or the cost of healthy fare decreases dramatically, poor people are likely to continue leading heavier, unhealthier lives.
In 2012, Texas was identified as the 10th-fattest state in the country in a study from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Sixty-six percent of Texans are carrying around too many pounds: A whopping 30.4 percent are classified as obese, and another 35 percent are overweight.
According to the Texas Comptroller’s office, lack of education and income are directly related to obesity; without education you make less money, which makes you more likely to be poor, which makes you more likely to be fat. Just 22 percent of college graduates are obese, while 37 percent of Texans without a high school diploma fall into the category.
Today, nearly 6 million Texans live in poverty. For a family of four that means an annual household income of less than $22,050 a year. And 23 percent of Texans are impoverished, exceeding the national average of 20 percent. From 2009 to 2010, Texas added another 373,000 poor residents—a population the size of Arlington.
And 38 percent of Texans who earn between $15,000 and $24,000 a year are—you guessed it— obese.
At a time when obesity is seen as a serious public health threat, research has found a growing prejudice against fat people.
Last week, the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University published a study suggesting that male jurors didn’t administer blind justice when it came to plus-size female defendants.
Female jurors displayed no prejudice against fat defendants but men — especially lean men — were far more likely to slap a guilty verdict on an overweight woman and were quicker to label her a repeat offender with an “awareness of her crimes.”
Another recent study by the Center for Creative Leadership found that top managers with a high body mass index were judged more harshly and seen as less effective than their slimmer colleagues by their peers, both at work and in interpersonal relationships.
Rebecca Puhl, one of the Yale researchers who co-wrote the juror study, said these displays of fat stigma are par for the course.
“Thinness has come to symbolize important values in our society, values such as discipline, hard work, ambition and willpower. If you’re not thin, then you don’t have them,” she said.
Previous research by Puhl and her associates found that prejudice against fat people was pervasive and translated into inequities across broad areas of life.
Some examples: Fifty percent of doctors found that fat patients were “awkward, ugly, weak-willed and unlikely to comply with treatment” and 24 percent of nurses said they were repulsed by their obese patients. Nearly 30 percent of teachers said that becoming obese was “the worst thing that can happen to someone” – and more than 70 percent of obese people said they had been ridiculed about their weight by a family member.
Obesity and Responsibility: Paternalism and no-fault insurance won’t fix our most serious health care problem
Obesity, the most serious public health problem in America, has yet to be honestly discussed.
After studies in the 1960s clarified the health impacts of cigarettes, smoking became an object of concerted public-health efforts. Smokers were increasingly ostracized, greatly reducing the incidence of smoking in the United States. Yet holding obese people responsible for their condition is still considered not only politically incorrect but discriminatory and prejudiced.
Indeed, U.S. trends in smoking and obesity have headed in opposite directions. Over the past fifteen years, smoking rates have declined 20 percent, while obesity rates have increased 48 percent. Since virtually everyone in America knows that both smoking and obesity worsen one’s health—and since millions of Americans have chosen to quit smoking or take steps to lose weight—it’s reasonable to conclude that others have decided to continue those behaviors and accept the adverse long-term effects.
We need to usher in a new era of personal responsibility in health care, and obesity should be our highest priority.
The first important step is to admit that although some people may be more predisposed than others to harmful behaviors and adverse outcomes, increasing rates of obesity are primarily due to overeating and insufficient exercise. Although the causes of obesity are complex, only a limited number of cases are primarily due to genetics. The genetics of populations change far too slowly to account for the sharp increase in obesity rates of recent years, and genetics cannot explain the increasing prevalence of obesity in the United States, first and most severely, and subsequently in developing countries.
Among the least likely viral megahits on YouTube is a 90-minute lecture by the food scold and pediatric endocrinologist Robert Lustig, entitled “Sugar: The Bitter Truth.” He delivers it in a windowless room at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. The talk is simultaneously boring and powerful, combining the gravitas of a national health crisis, the thrill of conspiracy theory, and the tedium of PowerPoint slides. Midway through the talk he scans the hall for approval. “Am I debunking?”
The UCSF extension students mutter “yeah”—most of them, at least. Lustig has a way of seeking validation and pissing off people at the same time. His combined love of showmanship and need for approval led to acting in 12 musical-theater performances during his three years as an undergraduate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His greatest role yet may be as the loudest, most contrarian voice in the public-health debate over why we get fat and what we should do about it.
Lustig is an imperfect frontman for abstemious eating. At age 55, his face is puffy. He looks disheveled even in a coat and tie. People love him and people love to hate him, especially after he proposed in the journal Nature that sugar should be regulated like alcohol and that people who buy soda should be carded. Almost three million people have watched “Sugar: The Bitter Truth.” Alec Baldwin publicly lost 30 pounds by following Lustig’s rules and giving up toxic foods, even trying to avoid the sugar in a dish his mother calls “Love Pie.” Still, a leading endocrinologist, who asked to go unnamed, called Lustig an “idiot.”
California’s new state motto might as well be “Does this dress make me look fat?” No other state comes close to California’s aesthetic obsession, which has birthed innumerable diet and fitness fads and made the gym into the equivalent of a state church. Considered on its merits, it’s a largely unobjectionable trend—laudable, even, for its emphasis on self-improvement. But when wed to two of California’s more unfortunate proclivities—a reflexive, nearly primitive worship of all things “natural” (usually evangelized by someone carrying an iPhone) and an insatiable appetite among government officials for meddling in the most minuscule aspects of everyday life—it spells trouble.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the City Council in Los Angeles, the state’s epicenter of vanity, recently made headlines by expanding its portfolio to include citywide dietary management. Last month, the body unanimously voted to approve a resolution exhorting Angelinos to participate in “meatless Mondays,” a weekly exercise in herbivorousness justified on multiple grounds: from combating obesity (which cynics might note is a malady afflicting some of the council members) to reducing carbon footprints to preventing animal cruelty (apparently tolerable the other six days of the week). It was as if council members dared one another to see how many liberal erogenous zones they could stimulate with a single initiative.
When I was 12, my mother sent me into a convenience store to buy a bottle of Coca-Cola for a party. Taking the money, the cashier looked at me critically and said, “Do you know how many calories are in that?”
Most days, I can’t remember where I put my glasses or the car keys, but that small exchange is seared into my memory forever. As are the times I jumped into a pool and heard someone yell, “Thar she blows.” It’s why I support the death penalty in only one instance: for people who make fun of fat kids. Make all the Chris Christie jokes you want, but the moral law within me, born of a childhood of small torments, says hands off the Nathan Sorrells of the world.
Nathan is the obese boy jogging down a country road in a controversial Nike ad called “Find Your Greatness.” At 5-foot-3 and 200 pounds, he looks terribly uncomfortable, which is how some of us feel watching him. As a country, we don’t know what to do about fat people, particularly when they’re exercising, casting shadows that look like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man lumbering after Bill Murray.
Our inner bullies want to mock them, to speak of the importance of self-control and discipline. Our inner nurturers want to hand them a cookie. In its famous marshmallow experiment, Stanford University showed that our willingness to withstand temptation has more to do with our prefrontal lobes than the portions on our plates. But Al Franken, in his 1999 book “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot,” showed there’s always a market for fat jokes, and you’re never too old to be a playground bully.
In May 2012 Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, proposed a ban on the sale in public places of large-sized containers (over 16 fluid ounces) of sugar-sweetened drinks. Most soda beverages will be affected. The ban will have to be promulgated by the city’s public health agency, which is controlled by the mayor—so it may be assumed that the ban will become law. It is to be introduced gradually, not to go into full effect until March 2013. In an address announcing this initiative, Bloomberg described it as the city’s response to obesity, described as one of the major health issues facing the nation. He referred to Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity campaign as a worthy antecedent (though, as far as I know, she has not advocated legal prohibitions). There have been some protests against this latest action of what some critics have called “Nanny Bloomberg”, by the beverage industry and some irate libertarians. This rather muted protest is not surprising since the actual impact of the ban will not be felt for some time.
Bloomberg (now aged 70) has been mayor of New York City since 2002, and is currently on his third term (he succeeded in overturning a term-limit law). He has switched party affiliation several times. Apparently he has been successful in improving the financial situation of the city. Before entering politics he had a brilliant career as a financier. In 2012 Forbes magazine estimated his personal wealth at 22 billion dollars, making him one of the richest individuals in the country. Whatever his motives in becoming a politician, greed clearly is not one of them. He refused the mayor’s salary, instead is paid the symbolic fee of one dollar per-annum. He also does not occupy the official residence of Gracie Mansion, and instead resides in his private apartment on the Upper East Side. His co-resident is a woman to whom he is not married—something that he would probably not get away with as mayor in many other American cities. In an international perspective, however, he is in good company—both the current presidents of France and Germany live with similarly non-matrimonial partners. I cannot say whether Bloomberg’s quasi-European lifestyle has anything to do with his idea of New York City as a quasi-European welfare state. He certainly has a very broad notion of the mayor’s responsibility for the wellbeing of citizens in many aspects of their lives—not just as a nanny, but as a fatherly Tsar of All the Boroughs watching over citizens who don’t know what is good for them. I have never met Bloomberg, but it is my impression that excessive modesty is not one of his problems.
Read the article here.
A CALORIE is a calorie. This truism has been the foundation of nutritional wisdom and our beliefs about obesity since the 1960s.
What it means is that a calorie of protein will generate the same energy when metabolized in a living organism as a calorie of fat or carbohydrate. When talking about obesity or why we get fat, evoking the phrase “a calorie is a calorie” is almost invariably used to imply that what we eat is relatively unimportant. We get fat because we take in more calories than we expend; we get lean if we do the opposite. Anyone who tells you otherwise, by this logic, is trying to sell you something.
But not everyone buys this calorie argument, and the dispute erupted in full force again last week. The Journal of the American Medical Association published the results of a clinical trial by Dr. David Ludwig of Boston Children’s Hospital and his collaborators. While the media tended to treat the study as another diet trial — what should we eat to maintain weight loss? — it spoke to a far more fundamental issue: What actually causes obesity? Why do we get fat in the first place? Too many calories? Or something else?
Spoiler: it’s something else. Read it and find out.
Researchers at Yale School of Medicine have zeroed in on a set of neurons in the part of the brain that controls hunger, and found that these neurons are not only associated with overeating, but also linked to non-food associated behaviors, like novelty-seeking and drug addiction.
Published in the June 24 online issue of Nature Neuroscience, the study was led by Marcelo O. Dietrich, postdoctoral associate, and Tamas L. Horvath, the Jean and David W. Wallace Professor of Biomedical Research and chair of comparative medicine at Yale School of Medicine.
In attempts to develop treatments for metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes, researchers have paid increasing attention to the brain’s reward circuits located in the midbrain, with the notion that in these patients, food may become a type of “drug of abuse” similar to cocaine. Dietrich notes, however, that this study flips the common wisdom on its head.
“Using genetic approaches, we found that increased appetite for food can actually be associated with decreased interest in novelty as well as in cocaine, and on the other hand, less interest in food can predict increased interest in cocaine,” said Dietrich.