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America, the Fat and Disgusting
If you thought the Obama years got a handle on obesity, you would be wrong. It's even worse now. From cradle to grave, in every sector of life, crippling the entire country.
As we prepare to head into another winter of suffering, death, and the new K5L2.B3-whatever COVID-19 variant, we should all take in one of the wonderful side effects of the lockdowns and their emphasis on sedentary living: obesity.
The Continued National Fat Epidemic
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that as of March 2020 – just before the onset of the pandemic – national obesity was still as large a problem as ever. Obesity, defined as having a Body Mass Index (a ratio of height to weight, with 25 being the upper bound of normal weight) of above 30, had a national prevalence of 41.9%. Among those 20 to 39, a prevalence of 39.8%, 44.3% for those 40 to 59, and 41.5% for those 60 and older (CDC 2022).
Including those classed as “overweight,” which the CDC defines as the range from 25 to 30 in Body Mass Index, brings the prevalence of overweight and obese Americans to 70 percent nationally according to numbers from the MAYO Clinic Healthy Living Program (Balzer 2022). The CDC projects this measurement, as of 2022, at 73.6% (CDC FastStats 2022). Obesity – the more severe stage of being overweight – is more prevalent in America than its less severe stage. We’re more prone to being critically overweight than to “just” being overweight.
Perhaps this number deserves repeating on its own: the percent of Americans who qualify as any level of overweight by BMI is 70%. Seven in every ten Americans is fat. While there is a theoretical overlap of those who have a high level of muscle mass also being in this category, let’s be serious: that isn’t nearly a high enough proportion to be worth considering. How many bodybuilders do you see in your average day?
The Kids were Fat, Now They’re Fatter
Childhood obesity has become an issue all on its own. The Bush and Obama years were spent attempting to rectify this problem, famously with Michelle Obama’s school lunch overhaul advocacy (which, I can say as a public school attendee, did not do anything useful). While adult obesity has doubled over the last 30 years, childhood obesity has tripled. As of 2017-18, this number worsened to approximately 40% (DHHS 2021). As of 2020, obesity (for children, defined as being above the 95% percentile of weight-for-age) affected approximately 22.2% of adolescents (CDC Faststats 2022). Children are one of the groups that we can conclusively say were fattened by the pandemic and lockdowns, with a study from JAMA concluding that “[s]ignificant weight gain occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic among youths [in Southern California], especially among the youngest children […] suggest[ing] an increase in pediatric obesity due to the pandemic” (Woolford, et al. 2021).
Childhood obesity is particularly troubling because of its effects long term on life outcomes; fifty percent of those who are obese in childhood were still obese in adulthood, kneecapping health outcomes for many of those who aren’t steered away from obesity in their younger years (Maffeis 2001). Large-scale data reveals that the rate of BMI increase nearly doubled during the peak of the pandemic period among those aged 2-19 (Lange et al. 2021). The only age group at least somewhat spared from this ballooning effect were those 18-20, probably only saved by being largely either in higher education, away from parents (who, again, from personal experience, erred much on the side of caution and lockdown regardless of political affiliation), or being employed.
How do we get here? It’s simple: the average American consumes more calories per day than they did 40 years ago. The path to this increased calorie consumption, however, is not as straightforward as more Big Macs.
On one hand, calorie intake has certainly gone up. But data from the United States Department of Agriculture shows that most categories of American consumption of food have not increased substantially. Instead, total daily calorie consumption rose from 2054 to 2501 from 1970 to 2010. Calorie consumption of oils and fats increased from 346 to 575, forming nearly half of this increase. Of the category of oils and fats, salad and cooking oils rose from 115 to 402 calories while other categories, notably shortening and margarine, decreased significantly. (USDA 2021).
This issue is compounded by examining how many Americans regularly eat out at either sit-down establishments or fast-food establishments. National Center for Health Statistics data, published by the CDC, revealed that 36% of American adults consume fast food on any given day (Fryar et al. 2018), and the same percentage largely holds for American children. The average American eats out 5.9 times per week (Olito 2019) – and while this number includes fast food, it also includes all other establishments, including sit-down diners and the like. Most modern establishments are also notorious for serving larger portions, thus having higher calorie counts (Young and Nestle 2002).
Vegetable oils – a category made up mostly of corn, cottonseed, canola, or soybean oils – form a substantial proportion of the oils that are cooked in restaurants and fast food establishments. They dominate the restaurant sector largely because of their cheap cost and easy availability (Gatewood 2013). They supply cheap calories that in some circumstances would be appreciated, but given already bloated portion sizes and calorie counts the increase is unnecessary and unhealthy.
The oils themselves also come with a litany of health problems, mostly related to cholesterol (Gardner 2010), though other studies have linked restaurant cooking oils to problems as deep as cellular damage (Venkata 2016). Research on vegetable oil nutrition is ongoing and complicated, but there is a rather large catalog of health effects that have been alleged against its use (Peat 2006; see citations of Peat’s article for large-scale analysis). While the field of cardiovascular health is somewhat split on the use of vegetable oils, alternatives such as olive oil have few, if any, detractors.
Given the prevalent use in the home due to their cheap prices, and even more prevalent use in the restaurant industry for the same reason, meals that often would be perceived (though maybe not listed) as low-calorie end up being more impactful. As explained previously, at least half of the increase in calories consumed daily was in the categories of salad and cooking oils.
American cities and lifestyles are reliant on transport by automobile, and this arrangement takes away from the average American the most basic of human exercise: walking. The average American falls short (typical annual numbers at approx. 6000) of the daily recommended step count of 10,000 (Donovan 2015) while other nations such as Japan, Switzerland, and Australia sat just below 10,000 per day. These nations, however, have a leg up on the United States: they are not as reliant on automobiles.
Driving has been suggested, and correlated statistically, as a factor in growing obesity rates in the United States. Research suggests that there is a very tight correlation between average miles driven and the obesity rate in the United States (Jacobson et al. 2011). This would follow naturally; time spent in an automobile precludes any sort of exercise-based transport and even walking to a bus stop or train station. Meta-analyses of city and urban design have found walkability and easy access to commercial properties by means other than automobile was associated with decreased obesity (Dixon 2021).
We cannot lay the blame entirely at the feet of the automobile industry, however. The percentage of Americans, nationally, who meet the CDC’s guidelines of 150-300 minutes of mild aerobic activity and two hours of strength training a week, is 23.2%, while aerobic only is 53.3% (CDC FastStats 2021). For children, according to CDC guidelines and recommendations, only one-quarter took part in physical activity every day, while only half took part in some sort of strength training at least 3 days every week (CDC Healthy Schools 2020). Americans do have a say in staying active in ways other than transport, but nearly eighty percent do not, and only fifty percent stay aerobically healthy.
All of this is compounded by the fact that the average American’s work life is now less active than ever, with an average 132 calorie/day decline since 1960; 140 for men, and 124 for women (Church 2011). Work is now largely completed sitting down, unmoving for most of the day. Even schools are growing more sedentary; school districts around the country continue to cut recess and physical activity during the school day (TheBestSchools 2021). The number of schools that had reduced recess in any capacity, from 2002 to 2011, was estimated to be approximately 40% (Pappas 2011); whether the dismal academic performance of schools in the aftermath of COVID-19 will invite more cuts in favor of instruction time remains to be seen. Given the non-cooperative attitude of school boards and districts in the pandemic itself, I doubt many will be cooperative in investigations.
The average American’s food has become more calorie dense, with less nutrition, and more health complications, while their lives have grown more sedentary due to urban design, transport, work-life balance, and low activity. Calories in have gone up, and calories out have gone down. A recipe for endless increases in obesity.
Obesity is prevalent, and it has identifiable consequences: that much we have established. But some (namely, idiots) may ask: what’s so wrong with obesity?
Obesity, on a personal health level, has a multitude of consequences in both short-term and long-term consequences. High blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancers, and several other organ-and-joint related conditions and syndromes can appear with prolonged obesity (NIDDK 2018). The CDC themselves has a composite page devoted to just discussing the myriad of health issues, and the various studies that compile all of them. Suffice to say that obesity ruins your body in every way imaginable.
Life expectancy is also affected by being overweight or obese; being overweight costing individuals 3.2 years of life on average, while the obese lost 6.4 years of life on average (Peeters 2003). Life expectancy, however, is a poor overall measure, as prolonged obesity also introduced risks of heart attacks, strokes, and other illnesses that cut lives much shorter than the total 60-70 year average life span. The health consequences, however, are plentiful to list, with the statistical significance varying with each study.
The economic impact of obesity takes a toll on the United States as well. Treatment-related to obesity or obesity-related issues was tallied at approximately 20% of medical spending nationwide. From 1998 to 2008, direct care for obesity doubled in spending from 74 billion to 147 billion dollars per year, with obese individuals creating an estimated $1429 to $2741 added cost in medical expenses every year compared to someone who is of a healthy weight (Spieker and Pyzocha 2016). Obesity costs are choking the American health system.
Other estimates for costs of treatment place the national total costs of obesity-related care at $190 billion in 2005 alone (Cawley and Meyerhoefer 2012). A study from 2011 projected that the same annual cost could be projected to rise by nearly $48 to 66 billion dollars per year if continued obesity trends were to continue; this number has likely worsened due to the accelerated trends of COVID and lockdowns (Wang C., et al. 2011).
A substantial part of these costs come from increased use of outpatient services, surgeries, physical therapy, as well as pharmacy and radiology services. This increased use of services creates a 42% increase in direct medical costs for obese patients. Total insurance costs to employers because of obese employees were estimated at 73 billion dollars annually. Lost productivity was estimated somewhere between 4.3 and 6.4 billion dollars annually. (Spieker and Pyzocha 2016). Obesity costs are hurting American productivity.
Security Consequences (yes, really)
Much noise was made in the 2010s over the phrase “Too Fat to Fight,” popularized by a report produced by the Mission Readiness foundation, which concerned the implications of obesity on national security – particularly among children and adolescents who were of recruitment age for the military. Much of the report still rings true today.
While is not the only reason that potential recruits cannot join the United States Military, the crisis of the overweight and obese precluded 1 in 4 recruits outright from enlisting (Mission: Readiness 2010).
Expanding on the issues raised by Mission: Readiness, the American Security Project projected that approximately 71% of American 20-year-olds were overweight, with 38% being obese. During President Trump’s first fiscal year in office, Army recruiting goals were raised from 69,000 to 80,000 but were almost immediately dropped back down to 76,500 when it became clear that over 30 percent of the target demographics for recruitment – men and women aged 17 to 24 – were simply not fit for service because of their weight (Cheney and Xenakis 2018).
Inside the United States military, an estimated 66 percent of service members were considered either overweight or obese in 2018 (Simkins 2018). More detailed research from 2015 revealed that in the Army, the percentage of those who were either overweight or obese rose from 48.9% in 1995 to 61.8% in 2008 (Reyez-Guzman 2015). These numbers have likely only worsened.
While this analysis is only on BMI, which would not account for those whose lean muscle tissue raises them over a BMI of 25, it would not explain a similar rise in those who were considered obese — from 5 percent to 12.7 percent (Reyez-Guzman 2015). It does not take a great deal of imagination to see how the problems of obesity and being overweight affect military readiness; both in the ability to recruit new soldiers, but also in the effectiveness of current members of the military.
The Normalization of Fat
American society has, because of 40 years of apathy towards obesity and its growing prevalence, come to see it increasingly in daily life. Ad campaigns such as the “truth in my Calvins” campaign from Calvin Klein have predominantly featured overweight or obese models in prominent photo advertisements (Sims 2019). The ridiculousness of all of this is lost on most mainstream media sources, who defend the models and artists as “brave” while failing to even consider that the normalization of this health crisis has consequences. It has become a common point for the left to mock any acknowledgment of this normalization; constant media normalization from corporations and promotion of unhealthy lifestyles is not a problem (Peterson 2022).
Research from the United Kingdom reveals that from 1997 to 2015, obese men today are nearly twice as likely to misperceive and underestimate their weight, from six to twelve percent. Nearly forty percent of overweight individuals also did not perceive themselves as being overweight; current efforts and norms have proven ineffective at combatting obesity (Muttarak 2018). Generationally, this has proven to be the case; the likelihood of overweight individuals classifying being “about right” in their weight increased by five percent in ten years from 1994 to 2004 (Burke et al. 2010).
Meta-analysis and large-scale literature reviews of this issue are ongoing, with several different dimensions including parents not recognizing their children as being overweight or obese, individuals not recognizing others as being overweight or obese because of population exposure, and even physicians in nations such as Germany largely failed to identify patients as being overweight or obese (Robinson 2017). It would be prudent for those who wish to know more to read Eric Robinson’s analysis, which thoroughly covers this topic. This issue is pervasive and has several different explanatory mechanisms, but most of them revolve around increased population obesity creating a compounding effect of others not recognizing it adequately. Normalization in cultural media and advertising likely only worsens this problem – it is a population exposure problem but transmitted directly onto devices and billboards across the whole country.
Much noise has been made of the rise of the body positivity movement, and it is so multifaceted and deep that it would be impossible to encompass fully, but suffice it to say that its proponents are largely left-leaning and that they are certainly not losing their battles. Take note of your surroundings: if obesity is normalized, those who grow up immersed in seeing it every may never see anything wrong with it. Thus begins an endless cycle of normalization and the raising of the bar as to what qualifies as “overweight” or “obese.”
This Will Get Worse
It should go without saying that the current administration does not see tackling this as a priority. Left-wing activists have effectively endorsed obesity and demonized any sort of action against it. I, personally, am surprised that the CDC pages concerning obesity and weight even remain active on their website. I would have imagined that some blowhard activists or intern in the White House would have raised hell over it by now, but who knows.
America is growing uglier and fatter the day. Our lifestyles, cities, foods, drugs, cars, and beauty standards all degrade by the day. We used to shame those who failed to care for themselves or what they owned in such blatant ways because it degraded cultural norms. Apparently, those norms now have zero hold or sway on American society.
I am reminded of some tweet (or series of tweets) I read several weeks back, remarking that “modern art” (the stupid urinal) serves as a litmus test to find “fascists” because they don’t appreciate it as true art. Let me expand the interpretation for their sake because I derive no joy from living in ugliness.
The modern world is fucking disgusting. We tacitly endorse and permit morbid obesity and disgusting cityscapes that encourage it. Our standards for everything fall by the day, and we are expected to “tolerate” and “normalize” these failures and disgusting changes. Expect these problems to expand into every sector of your life. Obesity has become predominant and defines the American experience. Every other degradation of beauty and life will become more and more common in much the same way, and it will be impossible to reverse.
The works cited are attached here, alongside some studies that are worth reading that I did not include from earlier drafts of this post.
Thank you for reading American Guardrail.