Why Wouldn’t We Be Fat?

There is no shortage of reasons that Americans are getting fatter. The excuses range from increased pollution, to the invention of air conditioning. The decrease in cigarette smoking even plays a role. Since there are so many factors pushing Americans into obesity, then the real question is why are there any skinny people left? Well in reality, the obesity problem is not nearly as complicated as one might think. The real problem is motivation.

Two thirds of Americans are overweight, according to the Food Research and Action Center. Of those, 35.7% are obese. Even in poor areas some food is available. People have become more sedentary at work and home with the advent of new technologies. Really, many of the previous factors that prevented obesity, such as famine and hard labor, no longer affect Americans.

In modern America, there are only two main reasons to maintain a healthy lifestyle: preventing health problems and attracting a mate. Statistics show that the latter has a much larger impact on people’s decisions. Most people don’t think in terms of “what I do now will affect my health when I’m 60.” However, the dating scene is a much more immediate motivation to look your best.

According to a Cornell University study, married men and separated women are the most likely to be overweight, at 74% and 75% respectively. Their obesity rate is 30% and 43% respectively. This is compared to those who never married, of which 54% of men and 55% of women were overweight. While among men, marriage correlated with obesity, the end of marriage (separated, divorced, or widowed) corresponded with high obesity in women.

Immediate need usually plays the largest role in shaping human behavior. Long term needs play a secondary role, often even being beaten out by immediate wants. Ergo, because Americans no longer have an immediate need to be physically fit (with a few exceptions), they have become overweight. At that point, health becomes a matter of personal choice in most cases. The immediate desire to be thin has to overrule the immediate desire to eat junk food. Since neither one is a need, the decision is up to the individual.

Additional Resources

Cornell University Gender and Marital Status Clarify Associations between Food Insecurity and Body Weight: http://jn.nutrition.org/content/137/6/1460.full.pdf

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