• Book

The Fattening of America: How the Economy Makes Us Fat, If It Matters, and What To Do About It

Citation

Finkelstein, E., & Zuckerman, L. (2008). The Fattening of America: How the Economy Makes Us Fat, If It Matters, and What To Do About It. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Abstract

Over two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. What's alarming about this statistic is not just the volume of Americans who have tipped their scales—but the velocity at which they're doing it. Over the past three decades, the number of obese Americans has more than doubled. The increase occurred up and down the socioeconomic spectrum, for all racial and ethnic groups, and, most dramatically, for America's children.

What's behind the sudden, explosive rise in obesity rates? In a word, it's economics. Author Eric Finkelstein, a renowned health economist who has spent much of his career studying the economics of obesity, with the help of coauthor Laurie Zuckerman, reveals why America's growing waistline is a by-product of our economic and technological success. Because of declining food costs, especially for high-calorie, low-nutrient foods, and increasing usage of technology, which make Americans more sedentary, the environment has changed in such a way that we're eating more calories and burning off less.

The issue is not that Americans don't care about their increasing waistlines—quite the opposite, in fact. But the reality is that in America's (and increasingly the world's) obesity-inducing environment, the sustained changes in behavior required to lose the weight and keep it off are simply too difficult—and becoming more difficult all the time. Moreover, generous insurance coverage and vastly improved medical treatments have lowered the health costs, if not the monetary costs, of excess weight. So carrying a few extra pounds is not as bad for one's health as it used to be.

Finkelstein and Zuckerman blend theory, research, and engaging—sometimes hilarious—personal anecdotes to break down the causes and the consequences of America's obesity epidemic. One by one, they explore the media's claim that obesity is making our businesses less competitive, pushing good jobs overseas, hurting our military readiness, increasing our taxes, and helping to bankrupt the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Along the way, the authors also reveal how the obesity epidemic has spurred tremendous demand for all sorts of new products and services, creating a flourishing new market that they call "The ObesEconomy."

The Fattening of America outlines the issues we must deal with to confront obesity. The authors explore the role that business and policymakers play in America's obesity epidemic, and explain that successful obesity prevention strategies need to do exactly the opposite of where the economy is taking us. They need to make it cheaper and easier to be thin—not fat. However, because obesity is a natural by-product of an expanding economy, the authors question whether or not obesity prevention efforts, even if successful, would actually leave some individuals worse off.