“Curing” Obesity

by on March 26, 2004 at 8:00 pm in Medicine | Permalink

Researchers claim to have discovered one of the key causes of obese America. The AP reports:

Researchers say they’ve found more evidence of a link between a rapid rise in obesity and a corn product used to sweeten soft drinks and food since the 1970s.

The researchers examined consumption records from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 1967-2000 and combined it with previous research and their own analyses.

The data showed an increase in the use of high-fructose corn sweeteners in the late 1970s and 1980s “coincidental with the epidemic of obesity,” said one of the researchers, Dr. George A. Bray, a longtime obesity scientist with Louisiana State University System’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center. He noted the research didn’t prove a definitive link.

I like the hedging–the link isn’t “definitive.” No, I guess it wouldn’t be. Obesity is surely also “linked” to the Iran hostage crisis and the stagflation of the late ’70s and early 80s. Maybe I shouldn’t be so skeptical. The study may be a little more scientific than merely looking at correlation rather than causation. But if the research is right, it will be easy to make America thin again. Just ban those high fructose sweeteners. One problem with this will be explaining why the advent of low calories sweeteners didn’t stem the tide of fat that allegedly threatens to overwhelm us.

My theory is that we’re fat because we enjoy it. We like food. It gives us pleasure. We’re wealthy and food’s cheap so we’re taking on a few pounds. Alex points out that the entire increase in weight over the past several decades can be explained by an extra Three Oreo Cookies a day! Here is a paper by Glaeser, Cutler and Shapiro that takes the economists’ approach to weight gain.

Here’s my take on the claim that we should tax fatty foods because of the externalities.

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