Tackling a weighty problem
Beginning with this book's subtitle "How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World" you get the idea that the author, journalist Greg Critser, isn't going to pull any punches. And he doesn't. Readers looking for an easy solution to the nation's weight problem or their own won't find it here. As Critser explains it, a convergence of circumstances, none particularly ominous in itself, brought us to where we are today. A relaxation of trade barriers in the 1970s, combined with simultaneous advances in food-processing technologies, gave us cheap sweeteners and cooking fats. These enabled fast-food and snack-food purveyors to increase portion sizes without substantially increasing their costs, an irresistible incentive for us to overeat. Also during this period, tax-cutting movements reduced school budgets. This factor led to the dropping or cutting back of physical education classes and the introduction of high-fat fast foods into the schools. At the same time, more women were joining the work force, which meant that they had less time to prepare food at home and monitor the family diet. Even as our individual and collective weight problems grew, Critser says, opportunists made money and reputations by convincing us that there were swift and painless ways to handle the consequences of our gluttony. Some diet theories held that we could eat more and still lose pounds. Special interest groups protested that too much attention to weight would drive young girls to anorexia and cause overweight people to form poor self-images. But there is more here than history and harangue. Having explained why Americans have become fat, Critser then details what this costs in terms of such diseases as diabetes and cancer. He also explores the roles that culture and class play in this national epidemic. Although breezily written, Fat Land is a profoundly disturbing book. The forces that drive Americans to overeat are so strong and entrenched that when we reach Critser's final chapter, "What Can Be Done," it seems like a straw in the wind.