In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Seattle Squeeze: New Urban Living
  2. Checking In
  3. Ben Aronson's Representational Abstractions
  4. Rock is ... Forever?
  5. We Need the Arts: A Sob Story
  6. Form Following (Commercial) Function
  7. Two Humorous Items from the Financial Crisis
  8. Ken Auster of the Kute Kaptions
  9. What Might Representational Painters Paint?
  10. In The Times ...

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

« Teaching America | Main | Blogging Notes »

October 03, 2006

More on Fat

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Are we putting on the weight because processed foods have gotten cheaper? Because more of us are desk-bound at work? In a fun debate between Darius Lakdawalla and Carol Graham, the most unexpected fact, as far as I was concerned, came from Graham:

For all racial and ethnic groups combined, women of lower socioeconomic status are approximately 50% more likely to be obese than those with higher socioeconomic status. Men are about equally likely to be obese whether they are in a low or high socioeconomic group.

Why should poverty be more likely to affect the poundage of women than of men?



posted by Michael at October 3, 2006


Atul Gawande explored the possibility of a different arrow of causation in a short article in Slate from '98.

Posted by: Ken Hirsch on October 3, 2006 5:25 PM

Maybe it depends on the likelihood that the women in the higher socioeconomic group have jobs? I think it possible that the stress, the activity, the need to keep up appearance that is all part of job commitment these days for women may be a factor.

Also perhaps, the peer pressure to have not much more than lettuce for lunch.

Posted by: susan on October 3, 2006 6:36 PM

"The seminal work of Michael Grossman, in 1972, argued that richer and more educated people have higher demands for health, because they stand to lose more in the way of lifetime income if they die young. "

Does this strike anyone else as a colossally stupid proposition?

Posted by: Intellectual Pariah on October 3, 2006 8:20 PM

Total BS. Anyone watching NOVA tonight?

Its all about chemicals, baby!


Posted by: Joe Moran on October 3, 2006 8:59 PM

Since the 60's thin has been in. Prior to that thin was also in, but with a much narrower demographic. What am I getting at? High status men, in great numbers, have been looking for, marrying and procreating with taller than average thinner than average women for more than two generations now. Their female offspring are, more and more, born into both wealth and thinness. And are in their turn prime candidates for high status marriage. It's a genetically self-selective process. Which excludes zaftig women. Those high status twerps don't know what they're missing.

Posted by: ricpic on October 3, 2006 9:16 PM

Well, a female physician like me works insane hours, misses meals, has a personal trainer (costly) and is surrounded by a culture in which control is valued and, type A is type A is type A......

Food is comfort for some, don't forget that. It's a form of pleasure and when you have access to less forms of pleasure, than food is a fairly cheap way to be luxurious.

Posted by: MD on October 3, 2006 9:44 PM

Rich people formerly used their extra time to eat and be fashionably lazy. So, from the Renaissance through the mid 20th century, being fat and prosperous was the way to go. Now, if you are rich, and are so inclined, you can go to a gym, hire a personal trainer, or simply have the fat sucked out of your body.

Poor people have less spare time and fewer options. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure this out.

In the West in particular, cheap food is incredibly abundant. In addition, people are a lot less active than ever before. This applies to infants as well as well as workers. Small children used to crawl and walk. Now, if you are middle class or higher, the kid is either strapped to your body or manacled into a stroller from his or her earliest days until he or she is old enough to be tied up inside the family SUV.

As a related aside, it is becoming more trendy for families to eat out for Thanksgiving. You can see the trend to laziness and fatness here. In the old days, men and women had to work their butts off to hunt and farm, and then the women would work hard to cook the vittles. More recently, men (and women) would sit in an office, expending a hell of a lot fewer calories, and then spend their money on a bunch of food which the women would then work their butts off to cook. Then women would notice that the men would sit around watching TV while the women did most of the work, and so for an increasing number of families, Thanksgiving is either catered or held at a restaurant so that everyone can be equally lazy. And fat.

For most of human existence, abundant food was a rarity and people had to work hard to catch it, cook it and eat it. Just a generation back I had relatives who lived on a ranch, raised or hunted for a good portion of their food, and even built a substantial portion of their home with their own hands. This obviously expended a huge amount of calories.

None of us, rich or poor, live this way anymore.

Posted by: Alec on October 3, 2006 10:14 PM

But but but --- Isn't it weird that being poorer hits women fatwise harder than it does men? Is this because richer women are dramatically slimmer than richer men? So when they let go, they've got farther to go? Because women are more dramatically affected by moods than men are, and maybe their moods translate into food consumption more than men's moods do?

Given everything around us these days, it isn't weird to me that poorer people would be heavier than richer people. But I fail to understand the sex contrast.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 3, 2006 10:29 PM

Poor people tend to be dumber than rich people, and also tend to be more impulsive (bad eating) and have an inferior work ethic (no exercise). Or you could go the other way and say that unattractive women tend not to get good jobs, there is more stress for poor people, and that some other ready made excuse is available for exonerating people from eating better, less, and getting proper exercise.

I go with the former analysis. Its ugly, its the truth, and all the excuses excusing (creating victims, for the purpose of arousing pity) make me certain its true, as well as my experiences with poor, fat people.

Posted by: s on October 3, 2006 11:52 PM

Women's biology is set up to stash resources as part of the child bearing directive. Women's bodies under malnutrition try to make up for the short fall through quantity in the absence of quality and store every thing that comes in. Women's famine response is more sensitive and extreme then men's.

Posted by: TW on October 4, 2006 3:25 AM

Alec said:
> Poor people have less spare time

There are many disadvantages to being poor rather than rich in America, but "less spare time" is certainly *not* one of them.

Posted by: Adam on October 4, 2006 4:18 AM

Hard physical labor probably is more common among lower-income men than among women in the same class, which helps keep the pounds off.

Posted by: Peter on October 4, 2006 9:17 AM

You live in Manhattan, right? How many REALLY fat people do you see there? Or in Center City Philadelphia, Back-Bay Boston, Lake Shore Chicago....HIGHWAYS!!!

It is not as simple as that, but ever since we got away from tradtional towns and traditional diets (High Carb, Low-Fat, versus Steak and Eggs and Whole Milk) people have been getting fatter.

The Wall Street Journal a year ago had an article on how poor immigrants were, on average, healthy and living longer than their American counter-parts. That is, they compared White immigrants to White Americans, Black immigrants to Black Americans and so on.

The immigrants were much more likely to make their own food, and use traditional diets and live in cities and towns.

In all of my time in NYC, I only knew one really fat person. And it was hard for him to do all of the requisite walking that is needed in a place like Manhattan.

Posted by: Ian Lewis on October 4, 2006 9:50 AM

High carbohydrate/low fat diet is meaningless because your body will convert carbohydrate calories to fats as necessary. The real thing that makes people fat is excess calories and spiking of insulin, which triggers the body to get the sugar out of the blood by converting it to fat. Diets rich in pasta, bread, white flour, white sugar, and other natural sugars spike insulin and cause this reaction. Better the steak and eggs great stuff!)than the big pasta plates. Speaking from experience, if you keep your blood sugar low, eat animal protein, nuts, vegetables, and fruits (undried), and get some moderate exercise, you simply will not have any excess weight.

Also, many poor people have plenty of time to exercise. They are just lazy. Poverty and bad behavior are in many cases inseparable.

Posted by: s on October 4, 2006 11:54 AM

Bad food is cheaper and more convenient.

As to the gender disparity, poor women are less likely to have jobs than poor men, and the jobs that poor men have are usually physically grueling. Also, there as simply more poor women than poor men due to the childrearing aspect. Can you be childless AND poor? I don't think so. So men who either are childless or who are not participating in their children's lives can be broke, but not poor.

Posted by: the patriarch on October 4, 2006 12:15 PM

"spiking of insulin" is obviously important, but my point was that traditional diets that were high in fat and protein and had some lacto-fermented carbs were much less likely to spike insulin. Yes, it is possible to have a low-fat, high-carb diet that will not spike insulin, you are still likely to turn the carbs that you don't use into body fat. Considering that many people do not get that much exercise, they don't really need to many carbs.

Also, high fat diets tend to "satisfy" people, therefore curbing hunger and binging.

Posted by: Ian Lewis on October 4, 2006 12:25 PM

What TW said. Women have more fat cells than men.

Posted by: Rachel on October 4, 2006 12:27 PM

The sex contrast is a simple issue. Weight makes more of a difference in sexual attractiveness and also in social status for women, hence higher-status women have more of an incentive to control their weight than higher-status men do. High status people are good at doing things that make them attractive and high-status.

It's basically OK socially and sexually to be somewhat overweight if you're a guy, so long as you're not grotesquely obese.

Posted by: MQ on October 4, 2006 12:49 PM

Michael – RE: But but but --- Isn't it weird that being poorer hits women fatwise harder than it does men?

Not at all. The obesity "crisis" is another myth that afflicts us in these modern times where life is so good (aside from terrorist threats) that we have to invent problems to worry about.

Obesity is a "problem" and yet life expectancy is high and getting better. I challenge anyone to show any link or study anywhere that shows any demonstrable link between obesity and serious health problems (aside from morbid obesity).

Look at photographs of rich women taken between 1880 and 1950 and you consistently find beefy matrons. I recall seeing past studies indicating that people have generally got taller over the past several generations, but no one writes about a "height-ism crisis” because nobody has a problem with it. People are getting fatter, but fat is supposedly bad, so we have to jump through hoops to analyze it.

A key sentence from the article you linked demonstrates how arbitrary any association of wealth and thinness really is: "Our research finds that in Russia, obesity is concentrated among the rich, rather than the poor."

Rich men in the US and other Western countries prefer thin women and will toss aside their beefy babes to get a new model if they are crass enough. This creates a huge incentive for wealthier women to stay thin, aside from the fact that social norms have changed to make thin "in."

As an aside, here in California, I have noted a number of rich and powerful men who have a decided preference for thin Asian women, finding white women to be fat cows by comparison. These men also believe (or hope) that Asian women will stay thinner longer. Asian women in this regard have an advantage over Russian and Eastern European women, who are perceived to be very beautiful when young, but who are also perceived to have a short half life with respect to their beauty and will bulk up in middle age or after having kids.

In short, a preference for thinness has become twisted into what is natural and healthy, and a great deal of pseudo-science is expended to "prove" that rich thin women have some advantage over poor women. This nonsense has been used, for example, to get salads and bean sprouts and other organic and vegetable crap into schools and lower-income nutrition programs under the dubious assumption that the food fads of rich people represent some kind of universal wisdom, and that poor people are at a disadvantage because they don't have access to subsidized sushi.

Some poorer men don't have as much of a preference for ultra-thin women, nor do they have as much of an ability to toss aside an old fat babe for a new thin one.

Congress has recently passed a stupid law aimed at restricting Internet gambling. If they passed a law banning gyms, liposuction, and stomach stapling I would bet that the number of fat rich women would increase again. For example, the free hip periodical, “The LA Weekly,” which has a high distribution on the wealthy, trendy parts of L.A. always prominently features ads for cosmetic surgery. Let’s run through a sample of the offers:

Botox - $10 per unit; Lip augmentation - $299; Breast Augmentation - $3950; Vaginal Rejuvenation - $2500. Prices are not supplied for other procedures such as breast reduction, tumescent liposuction, tummy tuck, male breast reduction or skin reduction after weight loss surgery.

Also of course, since many health care plans don’t cover elective cosmetic surgery, and neither cosmetic surgery nor gym memberships are tax deductible, poorer women are just not going to go into this thing in great numbers – until the price comes down. Lasik eye surgery is becoming more widespread, and, oddly enough, some bariatric weight loss surgery is also becoming more economically accessible for non-wealthy income groups (although there is some caution about the quality of some of these low-cost providers).

So again, in short, rich people have the time and the money to indulge themselves in whatever society decides beauty should be.

Posted by: Alec on October 4, 2006 3:02 PM

As a final observation, most poorly paying jobs are not very grueling anymore. Outside of construction, many are service jobs, such as tending a cash register.

For instance, this morning while I was buying a bottle of milk and some mixed nuts at the drug store (healthy snacks), the three women working the registers were all overweight, two by a whole lot. Since I buy stuff there all the time, I know at least two of the three have kids, and none is married. I know this because instead of talking to the customers, they just carry on a constant conversation amongst themselves. All of them were also youngish. I am positive that they move around a lot more at their job than I do, as I have desk job. Yet they are all 50-100 pounds overweight. Gee, I wonder why?

Its pretty simple. We all like tasty fats, sugar, and salt. Some of us structure our whole diets about that and suffer the consequences. Some eat those things in moderation, and few none at all. Some try to get exercise and many give into laziness. Hard to move up in the world when you are lazy, isn't it? I don't think there is much of argument or excuse-making that's convincing for eating poorly and not taking care of yourself. Worse yet, these parents pass that lifestyle on to their kids.

My observation is that the VAST majority of poor people are responsible for their own misfortunes due to poor choices and a lack of self-discipline. We can all invent excuses, but in the end, all that really matters is results.

Posted by: s on October 4, 2006 3:18 PM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?