May 30, 2005

The tempting marketplace.

Obesity researchers are using mapmakers to graphically demonstrate that kids walk home from school past lots of places that sell the kind of food that makes them fat. Wouldn't it be better if there were only fruit stands?
Michele and Gene Burgese, who own Red's Hoagies across from Southwark, said they are happy to stock more fruit but doubt it will sell.

"Kids are kids," Michele Burgese said. "I don't think we ever sold an apple or banana to a kid," her husband said.

The only hope is to only sell fruit. Damn that free choice! People buy what they want. But if you smell fried chicken and doughnuts when you're walking down the street and hungry, you're going to want something lusciously fatty. I know what a fruit stand smells like. It doesn't make you feel like eating fruit. It makes you think I really should eat more fruit.

The hungry body feels powerfully drawn to foods that will pack on weight. This is the result of evolution in a world of scarce food, where people survived because strong instincts enabled them to zero in on the foods that would keep them going. We're not going to dawdle around this berry bush. We need to get something with fat and full of nourishment. Human organisms with an intense love of fruit died out in prehistoric famines.

The urge to eat fat is entirely healthy and normal. What is abnormal is that food is available everywhere. This is also a wonderful thing. Now, we're left to overcome our own healthy instincts because they've got a bad effect in our new, comfortable environment.

How can we possibly do that? Well, why are we not just saints in all aspects of our lives?

UPDATE: In the comments, there's a lot of discussion about whether it's better -- in fatness/slimness terms -- to live in the city or the suburbs.


JB said...

Well, obviously the problem is living in the city. In the suburbs, you either (a) get a ride to and from school, or (b) walk (which I did), but there are no commercial establishments along the 30 minute walk (which it was a good 30 minutes). Solves that problem...Parents...Move to the Suburbs!

JB-Advocate for Suburban Sprawl (honest!)

Pogo said...

That was a marvelous encapsulation of what I tell my patients who are oveweight. I prefer not to play the morality angle that is so often used in the medical press (you are fat because of a moral lapse). It is better that people know two simple facts:
1. we are born with brains designed to keep us from starving
2. we are living in a society of plenty, unlike any that has ever existed in the history of humankind.

Thus, losing weight is very hard, not because we are lazy or bad, but because we are successful and very fallibly human.

But the side of the aisle that believes in human perfectibility, the one that brought us collectivim and its attendant horrors (i.e. Stalin, Mao, now Mugabe), now tries to make the "new Soviet Man" in health care. Same ignorance of human limitations, same derision of choice, same desire for power over others.

As Mencken said, "The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule."

Meade said...

I'm with JB on that 30 minute sprawl walk (or bike ride) to which I would add someone at home to provide, upon arrival, a kid her/his just reward.

Ann Althouse said...

Interesting! Usually the subject of fatty fast food brings out the left-wing anti-business arguments, but the commenters today seem to be developing anti-left themes.

JB, lmeade: Usually people think city-dwellers get more exercise and that suburbanites drive everywhere, including to fastfood restaurants. I did a lot more walking in the years when I lived in big cities. But that might be more true of adults than kids. There's also all that yard work. Do people still get their kids to do yard work?

Pogo: Interesting! I am hearing a lot of this choice-is-bad talk lately. The notion that people need to be saved from pursuing happiness!

Ron said...

Some "acquaintances" of mine actually did an "intervention" on me, to try to get me to lose weight. At first the language is about "health," but when I press them on it, it became clear that it was much, much more appearance-based. They liked my wit at their parties, but couldn't stand to look at me! And they were angry at me when I didn't feel the same degree of guilt they feel about their own weight!

Needless to say, I made them happy and don't show up at their parties anymore.

Sandi said...

We are an obese nation because of dieting fads. Not just because people diet, but because they invariably do it wrong no matter what diet is used.

A diet for any length of time lowers the metabolism and it tends to be permanent. Exercise raises it only slightly, and not significantly for long after stopping.

If you want to diet, you MUST have one (sometimes two) days a week of high caloric intake. It tells the body that it doesn't have to get more effiicient.

Raising your caloric intake one day a week back up by (say 600-800 cal), will not erase what you lost by eating 600-800 X 6 cal less for the rest of the week.

Seriously, it works quite well. Many body builders will tell you this.

JB said...

Well I live in/near the SF Bay Area. My experience is that walking in the city is dreadful, in the suburbs you have trails and paths and the like. There were and are a lot of good suburban bike paths throughout Contra Costa County.

Of course, you have to take them, but that's no different than the city, you can just as easily in the city get a Muni Pass, and walk to the station and back, not too far. And of course it should be noted that students get a heavily discounted rate on municipal bus systems, and BART as well.

I will say yard work is the one thing the suburbs will often have to keep families exercising, for the family that doesn't want to "waste" money on hiring a gardener. People do, but they ought not. After all, Glenn (Instapundit) and I, and a lot of his e-mailers seem to even have push mowers. I don't know about kids and yard work, not yet at least.

I do think kids are much more likely to get more exercise in the suburbs than the city, I'll admit, I was not normal weight in HS, but that was more a result of overconsumption. I'd go riding on the bike paths, or hiking through some of the hills. Riding bikes seems like it'd be deadly for a teenager in the city. But how else do you get around in the suburbs at 13 without a bike?

Mark Kaplan said...

Thanks to "Pogo" for the Mencken quote. It's great.

Ann Althouse said...

"But how else do you get around in the suburbs at 13 without a bike?"

From what I've seen, the parent becomes the chaffeur.

I walk much more when I'm in the city for two reasons: I don't want to mess with a car and there's a lot to see as you walk along. Most suburban walks are incredibly boring. There should be shops and caf├ęs and parks. In the suburbs, it's just one yard after another. It can be pretty, but often it's a lot of driveways and vacant swaths of lawn.

henny said...

I love fatty foods! So it's my love of exercise that has kept me slim. But when I don't, I get chubby. It's hard to diet.

But, I did have a health issue years ago that kind of forced me to try some extreme dieting. I tried the Atkins and I got skinny skinny with all that meaty and fatty foods. But eventhough I ate like a truckdriver, I was always hungry. I really felt like I was starving and my body looked it as well.

And then I tried macrobiotics, and dropped a few more pounds before I started gaining to a somewhat normal weight. The amazing thing about macriobitics - lots of grains, tofu, veggies, legumes, is that I always felt satisfied with the food. I think this is because my body was receiving the nutrition that I needed.

So many nutritionists will say that we crave lots of food, sugar, fats because are body is not satisfied with the nutrition that it is receiving on our very processed-foods American diets. I guess this is one of the lefty posts?

JB said...

The parent does have the tendancy to become the chaffeur, if they let that happen. As it was, if it was more than probably a 30 minute walk, I'd get a ride, but that was more the exception than the rule.

I readily concede that a walk in suburbia is much more boring or mundane than the city, but I've come to really value boring and mundane (after some of the experiences I've had walking in S.F.).

My personal guess...I bet Madison would be a nice city to walk around, S.F. well, I moved away so there you go. (And apparently do all the other families and families to be).

Personally, the reason my wife and I didn't have a car in the city, wasn't because walking was nice, but was because parking was a third the price of rent, and rent wasn't cheap to start. Let alone parking at your destination. But again, an S.F. experience is much different than a Madison one I imagine.

APF said...

Ron: I too would be disappointed in a friend who seemed to stop caring about their health and appearance, whether it was diet-related, drug-related, or whatever the cause. Maybe they weren't the right friends for you, but at the same time maybe there was some validty to their concerns.

Sandi: I wouldn't peg the cause of obesity on people actually trying to lose weight, although I would agree that many people either don't know how and/or try too hard. While refeeds are a good tool, they're much more useful for a bodybuilder at 8% bodyfat trying to fight their way to 4%, than they are for someone who has never really dieted before, is severely overweight/overfat, and first-and-foremost needs to change their basic habits and relationship with food.

Rather than go through expensive experiments to map the availability of junk food, why not try to address why these kids are hungry in the first place? From my perspective, when you eat a [likely small] breakfast at 7:00am, followed by a school-or-bagged lunch at 11:00am, you're setting yourself up to be hungry for a real meal at ~3:00pm, right around the time when many kids would be at or returing home.

Ann Althouse said...

Adam: I really identify with your diagonosis. I still remember eating lunch at school at 10:30AM and coming home to a family that thought 8PM was the dinner hour. You would not believe how much chocolate chip ice cream I ate between 3 and 4PM every day!

Meade said...

Googling "strength training," "Mediterranean Diet," and "reel mower" provides information on three powerful tools that can readily lead to health and happiness for nearly anyone. No lawn? -- google "bicycle." Can't ride a bike? -- "walking shoes."

Ron said...

Adam: I doubt the validity of their concerns, because I doubt their motives. They were all quite concerned about their appearance; in several cases, I would say that it was close to their self-definition. I feel they were'nt concerned about my health, it was just that I did not share their own mutually-reenforcing neurosis about one's physical appearance. It's not like I became Howard Hughes or something; I just didn't give a damn how much weight I gained or lost either way.

I think that the amount of work/dieting that one needs for one's health is not really correlated to the appearance-based assumptions about weight. If I were exercising, and eating modestly, but didn't lose weight, I am completely convinced that they would not accept this; I would need to do more, eat less, etc. until I met their body image standards.

I reject the whole approach, kit and kaboodle...

CM said...

I think the idea of walking more in suburbs is weather-dependent. I live outside Boston and the weather is miserable 6 months out of the year. I grew up in a New York suburb and there was no way I was walking 45 minutes to school in the snow while carrying a very heavy backpack and a violin.

It also depends on exactly how suburban (or exurban, I guess, to use the trendy new term) your area is. In the Bay Area and in New England (probably other places too, but that's where I've lived) towns have walkable downtown areas. But where I grew up, there was nothing for miles except one busy street with strip malls. So there wasn't much incentive to get out.

Ross said...

There's a whole book -- heck, a movement -- really about fitness and cities vs. suburbs. One of the writers is now Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's public health officer out in California. Link: