The Political Roots of American Obesity

E. Douglas Kihn, Truthout: Doctor of Oriental medicine E. Douglas Kihn argues that the squeezing of the American worker, starting under the Reagan Administration, has created a worried, hurried population succumbing to “American Syndrome” and self-medicating with food.

Obesity X-ray(Image: Obesity X-ray via Shutterstock)The term obesity is defined as a count of 30 or above on a mathematical scale (called BMI, or Body Mass Index) that combines weight and height measurements of individuals. The term overweight is used to describe the BMI of people who fall in between obese and normal.

Over the past three decades, the obesity rate in America has by all accounts climbed to astronomical proportions. Over a third of Americans are officially overweight and another 35.7 percent are obese, according to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Conventional experts blame the “wrong food,” bad genes, lack of exercise, chemicals in food, and this or that hormone for the problem.

If these factors play any role at all in stoking the epidemic of fat in American, they are themselves only transmission agents and facilitators for the deeper causes. Over the past 30 years, the standard prescription of diet, exercise and increased nutritional education haven’t solved the problem. In fact, it hasn’t even slowed it down and could even be contributing to the difficulties.

To really beat it, we have to ask why and when. To discern the fundamental causes of the obesity epidemic in the United States, we will need to go back in history and unearth its beginnings, to find out exactly when it all started. Then we can ask it why.

When we do, we will discover that the obesity epidemic in America is essentially a mental health problem, whose underlying causes are economic and political.

Let us begin by examining the chart below, which was compiled in 2006 by the US Center for Disease Control.

Overweight and Obesity, by Age: United States, 1960-2004

Back when it all started…



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