Gary Becker on Why People Get Fat

This is from the most recent post at the Becker-Posner blog:

The weight of the average male and female began to grow sharply around 1980 not only in the United States but also in all other developed countries… Another change… also emerged around 30 years ago that provides a fully rational forward-looking incentive to pay less attention to the future health consequences of overeating and weight gain. I am referring to the beginning of the age of blockbuster drugs that help control blood pressure, cholesterol, and erectile dysfunction, help treat if not cure various cancers, and provide other protections against some serious health consequences of being overweight. The expectation of even further progress in the future, such as in treating the worst aspects of diabetes, would rationally reduce present concern about weight gain and the future consequences of heavy eating of rich foods and low levels of exercise.

Comments (4)

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  1. Devon Herrick says:

    Obesity is largely a condition that afflicts highly developed, wealthy societies. The idea that some people would resist losing weight because weight-related medical conditions are now manageable makes sense.

    However, I suspect there is more at work here. As food throughout life becomes affordable, each successive generation eats better – causing each successive generation to grow larger in both girth and stature – thus being able to carry more weight.

  2. Brian W. says:

    Tens of billions of dollars are spent each year on weight loss-related products and services. Without the specter of an “obesity epidemic,” people are less likely to spend money on weight loss programs they don’t need.

  3. Bart Ingles says:

    1980– Isn’t that about when the low-fat and aerobics fads really got going? And the microwave oven was fairly new (TV dinners still came in aluminum trays in 1980).

    Finally figured out that what seems to work for me (where weight loss is concerned) is to forget aerobics completely in favor of brief but intense strength-training a couple times a week, and to limit calories, mainly by cutting carbs in half (e.g. stay away from anything with “low fat” on the label). I find that 1g fat is much more satisfying than 2g starch.

  4. Ken says:

    People are getting fat because we have lowered the cost of being fat? Isn’t that almost a tautology?