The Economics of Getting Fat
During the past week arguments about obesity have popped up quite often on the International Herald Tribune. A comprehensive reading of the various contributions may clear out the issue about fat.
In the letters section on May 6, Dr. John A. Talbott of the University of Maryland at Baltimore finds “frightening and misleading“ the importance given by author Gina Kolata to genetic factors in determining an individual’s weight.
Kolata’s new book “Rethinking thin” is indeed reviewed on May 4 on the IHT by Emily Bazelon (“Is the obsession with obesity (and thinness) overblown?”). Ms. Bazelon quotes Ms. Kolata as suggesting that “early nutrition, vaccines or antibiotics somehow ‘precipitated changes in the brain’s controls over weight.’”
Talbott’s and Kolata’s views can be reconciled, however, as they both briefly refer to the problem of contemporary portions.
Look in fact at David Leonhardt’s contribution on May 1, again on the IHT (“Economic View: Economics of acting against our own interests“).
Mr. Leonhardt reports on the finding by Brian Wansink, a Cornell professor and author of “Mindless eating“. Very briefly, Wansink and his team are finding strong clues that the larger the size of our plates, the more we eat (likewise, “squat glasses” make us drink more).
In a sentence, large containers make portions look smaller to us.
Can Behavioral Economics provide what Ms. Bazelon calls “the smoking gun in the mysterious fattening of America“? Perhaps.
But for those of us with a “larger-than-average build”, it does indicate a way forward outside the usual journey from one diet to another.