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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Free Market and Obesity

Well, it's a new year, new moon and my 30th birthday and, given my love for ceremonial fresh starts, the right time to breathe a little life into this broken and discarded thing. My actual resolutions, those that are sane and measurable, are nothing without my anti-resolutions, those that will drive me crazy for the next 365 days no matter how hard I resolve not to obsess over them. My anti-resolutions include eating healthy and keeping up with this blog, both of which I know are doomed to imminent failure if I try too hard to make them happen.

The confluence of the aforementioned subjects, however, is too rich not to share, given my morning meditations on food, wellness and money spurred by this article and corresponding blog post. The article cites a study linking obesity to free market economies. Leaders in the fat acceptance movement are not buying it--the last paragraph of the post sums up their point of view:
This article is Diet Season incendiary crap meant to do little more than advance an agenda by taking advantage of a vulnerable population. It doesn't even touch upon the relationship between size and socioeconomic status, and if it did it would still ignore the elephant in the room---genetics---in its attempt to frame fatness as a social problem to be 'fixed.' It's time to take back our fat identities---we aren't problems, we aren't symptoms of a broken economic system, or a broken planet, or broken health, or a broken morality.
While my allegiance with the fat acceptance movement typically trumps my trust in professional academics, my personal experience has led me to believe that this broken economic system has much to do with obesity, though maybe not in the ways the researchers suggest.

Food, weight, and overeating are part of a complex web of individual, interpersonal, and societal influences. Genetics plays a role, as do psychological well being and socioeconomic status. The parallel obsessions of obesity and nutrition are two sides of the same coin: the free market doesn't care if you are buying vitamins or cheeseburgers, as long as you are buying.

Obesity is the cause celebre of many a politician and academic. It's made the City of Philadelphia $25 million, and scores of public health researchers are employed by grants to tackle the underlying causes of the "public health nightmare". Weight, diet, obesity, health, wellness and nutrition, when lumped together, is certainly multi-trillion dollar industry, one that profits greatly off people hating themselves. Profit is generated by people buying low-cost, high-calorie food, and profit is made off the same people working to lose the weight those foods cause. In a system who's entire purpose is maximized profit, the "obesity crisis" is a perfect storm.

Genetics can and does play a role, but reducing obesity to genetics leaves out people who legitimately suffer from the more insidious aspects of the free market economy:  loneliness, desperation, and the self-reinforcing cycles of punishment and reward, best aided by consumption of consumer products (shoes or twinkies, choose your poison). Advanced free-market societies are rarely champions of human dignity, unless of course, human dignity is profitable.

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