There is an obesity epidemic gripping the United States and many other advanced countries. This is not strictly an American problem. It seems that the collective waistlines of developed economies are getting bigger and bigger.
Believe it or not, this problem is actually a testament to the success of these societies.
Please understand that if you live in a society where agriculture is so inefficient that agricultural products, namely food, are very expensive, then there is probably less opportunity for people to get fatter and fatter.
With the United States and its heavily mechanized agricultural industry, less and less people are producing more and more food to feed the whole nation. This means that the vast majority of people in the United States are involved in jobs and industries that are not all that physically demanding. After all, just how physically demanding is it to sit on a chair for 8 hour stretches looking at a computer.
To put this in context, please understand that in the beginning of the 20th century, close to 40% of all Americans lived on a farm or engaged in activities that supported a farm. In other words, it had a large agricultural sector as far as workforce participation went.
Fast forward to today, and you can barely scratch 1% of the population engaged in agriculture or agriculture-related activities. What happened?
Well, it all boils down to better inputs. I’m talking about better chemicals and also mechanization.
This is why Americans, ultimately, are getting fatter by the minute. There’s just simply a heavy surplus of cheap, abundant food.
Now, a lot of people might say that Japan is equally developed like the United States, but when you look at their agricultural sector, you can see the difference. If you go Tokyo and you try to buy a steak, chances are, you probably will pay through the nose.
Tokyo is one of the world’s most expensive cities precisely because Japan’s agriculture really is still relatively closed and old fashioned. There’s still a tremendous amount of people in the agricultural sector.
In the United States, this trend went in the other direction. There’s a heavy focus on breeding better varieties of plants as well as livestock. The end result, paired with mechanization and improved chemical inputs, is a highly efficient agricultural industry.
Availability is the main reason why Americans are getting fatter by the minute.
The Rise of Sedentary Lifestyles
As more and more Americans shifted from the factory floor as well as the agricultural fields to work in the office, this had a tremendous effect on the amount of calories the typical person burned throughout the day.
If you were working in an agricultural job, chances are, you would be standing up a lot of the time. You probably would be walking around and engaging in all sorts of activities. In other words, you would be burning calories pretty much throughout your 8-hour shift.
Compare this with a typical American office worker who simply sits down in front of the computer and only gets up for meetings, to go to lunch, as well as to take breaks and to go to the water fountain. There is no comparison.
The total amount of calories people burn in a sedentary lifestyle is a fraction of what they would have burned in another economy or if the economy was organized another way. The end result is that we take in a lot more calories due to wider food options and cheaper food overall, and we burn less of it.
What happens when you pair those two factors together? Well, the results are actually quite obvious. The American collective waistline is exploding. People are just getting fatter and fatter and this has led to a health crisis.
What’s Wrong with America’s Obesity Problems?
Well, you have to understand that one-sixth of the economy is health industry-related. This means that as more Americans start to suffer lifestyle diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and certain types of cancer, this is going to put a tremendous strain on the American health system.
This is why there’s quite a bit of debate regarding who will pay for America’s healthcare. Currently, the private model for healthcare provision has the upper hand.
But given the long-term effects of America’s lifestyle choices, it’s anybody’s guess whether America will follow the path blazed by countries like Canada and the United Kingdom, or it would go its own way.
Please understand that healthcare is not cheap. Given how bureaucratized and specialized medical care has become in the United States, there’s definitely going to be a lot of hard choices ahead.
The Rise of Video Games
Another key reason why Americans are getting fatter and fatter is that the whole concept of leisure has gone through a tremendous sea change.
Back in the day, when people take their day off or they’re out to enjoy their weekend, they usually engage in sports. They usually go out to a public place and they walk around.
Maybe they go to the beach and swim. Maybe they go to the river or lake and do some fishing. This was how people used to get around. This was how the American past time used to be defined.
Well, with the rise of video games and mobile devices, it’s not unusual to find people just lounging around in the couch with their eyes glued to a screen of one size or another.
Whether they are watching a TV or playing a video game on it, or they’re just stuck on a mobile device like a phone or a tablet, this has made leisure time even less calorie-intensive.
Since most Americans have access to cheap food, and their leisure time activities, in addition to their work activities, involve less and less calorie burning, it is no surprise that Americans are getting sicker and sicker.
Obesity is just the canary in the coal mine. It’s only a matter of time until this blows up in a horrendous way.