The One True Method Of Beating Obesity – Turn Off The Central Heating

We’ve a quite lovely revival of the most paranoid theory concerning why we’re all so damn fat these days. Obesity is caused by the capitalists deliberately making us fat. No, really, they make unhealthy food, advertise it to us, get us to eat it, we all become fat and they laugh all the way to the bank:

Just for the avoidance of doubt:

There’s more than the occasional problem with this. We don’t, for example, eat more than our forefathers did. Sure, we can all play games with how much people lie on those self-reported surveys about calorie intake. True, to make sense of it being lies we’d have to assume that people lie more now than they used to but. So, instead, let’s look at official guidance. In WW1 the aim was, for the Army, to stuff some 4,300 calories a day into each frontline soldier out there in the trenches. Something they largely achieved too. In WWII rationing peeps started to worry that diets of less than 2,900 calories a day would lead to weight loss. Today official guidance is that 2,500 a day for men, 2,000 for women. Well, that’s the last one I recall at least.

So, absent anything at all about how much people lie concerning what they eat the experts – yes, I know, PHE as experts, har har – insist that we need fewer calories today than we used to. And everything we think we know about how much people do actually eat tells us that people are indeed eating fewer calories than the people of the past did.

It just isn’t that we’re eating more that is.

If we’re all eating less than we used to then what is the cause of the obesity?

So, start with a point anyone even vaguely economically trained will grasp. If it’s not the supply side that’s the problem, maybe it’s the demand side? Price changes can come from either side, as we know. Model weight as the price, calorie intake as the supply, calorie expenditure as the demand. If the price has changed, the supply has changed in the opposite direction to the price, then we must be looking at a pretty big demand shift. And what was it that did happen 40 years ago?

Actually, 40 years ago is about when central heating became a commonplace in Britain. Anyone of my maturity in years – which includes G Monbiot – and even those from thoroughly upper middle class backgrounds – both me and G. Monbiot – will recall ice on the inside of bedroom windows in winter. Houses simply were not fully heated throughout. Actually, pretty much the entire country was in what we’d now call fuel poverty. That fuel poverty that we have standards for these days, you should be able to heat the entire house to such and such a temperature on less than 10% of income. A standard which just about no one pre-1950 reached, few pre-1970 did.

America had that heating rather earlier than we did. Americans also became land whales that little bit earlier than we did. Anecdata I know but a move to the US in 1981 was marked with an observation of how warm Americans kept their houses in winter.

We do actually spend quite a lot on all this public health stuff these days. It might be worth someone doing a little study of correlations. Different nations became lardbuckets at different times. Different nations adopted central heating as a commonplace at different times. Why don’t we go see what the correlation between those two is?

After all, the idea that mammals use some significant portion of their energy intake for body temperature regulation isn’t exactly fringe science, is it?

Oh, by the way, the idea that it’s all high fructose corn syrup is nonsense. That’s largely a result of the American idiocy of having tariff barriers against sugar imports. Which leads to the stuff being double and more the world price there. So, manufacturers use the cheaper HFCS. Sure, some European manufacturers do the same but the incidence is very, very, much lower. Our soda pops tend – note, tend – to be sugar, their HFCS for example. But that obesity stuff is happening all the same in both places – thus it’s not the HFCS causing the obesity. Or not specifically that is, of course calories are calories.

Occam’s shaving kit does insist that we should look for, tend to accept, simpler answers over more complex. It’s obviously possible that the capitalists are out to force feed us all until we explode. Equally it’s possible that central heating just means we need to consume fewer calories. How to decide between these two?

A useful clue is that we are eating less and yet we’re still getting fatter….

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Hallowed Be
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Hallowed Be

You’d think George Monbiot would be right behind starting a new movement to turn off the CH and leave the windows open at night.

Esteban DeGolf
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Esteban DeGolf

In addition to CH, most people expend far fewer calories at work and in getting around. CH may correlate more than cause this trend. As a society gets richer people ride more than walk, have elevators instead of stairs, jobs become less physically demanding, etc. Someone noted that 100 years ago rich people were fat and worked very little, poor people were thin and worked long hours. Today rich people are thin and work long hours, poor people are fat and work very little. Also note that the prototypical young urban professional goes to the gym to burn a lot… Read more »

BB01
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BB01

Rich people could afford to eat more food. Not all rich people were fat.

Bongo
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Bongo

We’re not getting fatter though, at least in the UK we are not, where the level has barely moved since 2003. There are graphs that show the obesity rate has risen since then, but all entirely explained by the age profile ( more people are in the age groups with the higher %s compared to 15 years ago, fewer young adults relatively ) and the reduction in the BMI cut-off for being overweight in Asian descendants from 25 to 23.5. What’s also not captured is the numbers for whom BMI is a bad indicator, because of high muscle levels –… Read more »

BB01
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BB01

Speaking of ‘correlation’, why aren’t people in hot countries all fat? And why are Eskimos fat not skinny? When body temperature falls, blood is diverted away from the surface and we shiver – this is rapid muscle activity to produce heat energy. The body uses muscle tissue to release energy it being on site and easiest to convert. Fat tissue is used least and last because a) it is an insulator, b) it is an energy store for later use. It is why athletes have high protein intake, even protein drinks, to replace muscle tissue burned due to physical activity.… Read more »

Rhoda Klapp
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Rhoda Klapp

Bongo is of course right about the absence of any increase. The other thing is, what makes this George Monbiot’s business or his problem? Or yours or mine, come to that, unless we have a personal problem with our weight? It is not our business and none of the usual excuses make it so. Not the cost to the NHS, which is in fact reduced by early deaths of the morbidly obese. Not the visual offence. Nowt. In fact the idea that ‘we’ need to worry about or interdict every social problem we can identify or imagine is nothing short… Read more »