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….