Are We Fated To Be Fat?

Fat is our fate. So Frank Bruni speculates in a recent New York Times column that can be seen as so pessimistic and doom-and-gloom that we all might as well just accept the inevitable, supersize every order of fries we can, chuck the fruits and vegetables and forget about starting that new workout regimen.

With more than one-third of adults in the U.S. obese — and with two-thirds of Americans qualifying as obese or overweight — and about 17 percent of children and adolescents overweight, talk of an obesity epidemic has become commonplace. As Bruni asks,

“What if fatness, even obesity, is less a lurking danger than a likely destiny, and the surprise isn’t how many seriously overweight people are out there but how few?”

A book, The Weight of the Nation, that draws on input from the Institute of Medicine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health makes just this point.  A four-part documentary with the same title will be shown next month on HBO. The argument, according to Bruni, is that it is not “gluttony” that has led to obesity becoming a national health issue, but the past century’s developments in agriculture– mass production of corn, soybeans and wheat; feedlots teeming with livestock; factories that process raw ingredients into deliciously salty, sweet, cheap products — have led to an abundance of food and, because it is there, we are eating it.

Following ”millenniums of feast-and-famine cycles,” we are “chromosomally hard-wired” to eat in excess to store up energy. Bruni quotes Thomas A. Farley, New York City’s health commissioner: “We’re simply not genetically programmed to refuse calories when they’re within arm’s reach.” With so many calories within such easy reach, it’s not that our will power isn’t strong enough: We don’t resist because we can’t.

Another quote from Michael L. Power’s and Jay Schulkin’s The Evolution of Obesity sums up the dilemma the past century of agricultural progress has wrought: “We evolved on the savannahs of Africa. We now live in Candyland.”

As Gawker puts it, “we are sliding peacefully into a food-coma of denial.” BMI measurements, which are commonly used to judge whether someone is at a healthy weight, are said to underestimate obesity in some 40 percent of cases. With our doctors now overweight, they are less likely to broach the subject of obesity with us, their patients.

The news that, thanks to our own innovations, we have doomed ourselves to obesity, is certainly troubling and downright depressing. Bruni suggests that the takeaway message is that we need to employ far different tactics in the fight against weight gain than the “kind of consciousness-raising and corporate prodding being done by Michelle Obama.” Chastising obese people is not effective and creating more green spaces and banning soda from school grounds and pizza from school cafeterias not enough. Bruni does not offer any concrete suggestions and certainly the ones he notes are better than nothing.

Can knowing that we can’t help taking “just one more” because it’s there (and it’s cheap and it tastes so good) make a difference in addressing obesity?

Related Care2 Coverage

High Fructose Corn Syrup and Maternal Obesity: Autism Causes?

New Study: Fast Food Makes You Sad

Food Systems Creating Public Health Disaster

4 Easy Ways to Lose Weight While Loving What You Eat

Photo by Lars Plougmann


Ernest R.
Ernest R5 years ago

@ Gianna M…”As my grandmother used to say, even if crude real, there were no obese people in concentration camps”. Amazingly enough, I knew a doctor that, amazingly, said the same thing. There were no healthy people in concentration camps either. A starvation diet loses fat AND muscle, so people die of starvation with the same proportion of fat to muscle as when they were obese. The jury is still out on exactly what makes people fat. {it is NOT eating fat}. It is a fact that people from cultures that have little obesity {or cancer} move to Hawaii or continental US, they develop the same problems as other Americans, and when US fast food chains are introduced in those countries, their customers develop them there. The problem is mostly to be found in food and people going to a gym to lose weight are informed that diet is the major cure. @ JK B… “no offering of a solution. Care2, you can and should do better” Be reasonable, JK B. Care2 has little control over our food intake. It is not even yet clear exactly what the causes are. Care2 did publish a pie chart showing huge subsidies for meat and dairy producers and tiny subsidies for fruit and vegetable producers. Write your congressman.

Sylvia J.
sylvia jones5 years ago

I don't agree! Man is not merely an animal without a thought process, hard wired to do anything. We have free will, remember. It sounds like just another cop out. People who don't make conscious choices are abusing their organs, weakening their hearts, creating a huge bubble in heathcare costs. And poor people are gaining weight more rapidly because they can't afford a healthy, varied diet. A couple of generations of living poor does nothing to inspire. Clearly, we need to be selective in our reading too.

Lena T.
Lena T5 years ago

Genetically people are programmed to grow old. But! it is not accepted by the beauty standards and some crawl out of the skin to remain forever young. But most of the time others (skinny others) judge the obese as week-willed, not as if it were natural, not the same as elderly. Because they know that this is not natural and they know there is a way to prevent or fight obesity. There are, however, fat people who are really "genetically fat" and can't do anything about it. Still, for the most part, it looks like a lame excuse, especially for the countries that have never experienced true starvation.

Lisa D'Ambrosio
Lisa D'Ambrosio5 years ago

Yes, I think we are hard-wired to eat if it's available and to crave salty, sweet & fatty foods because in the past they were rare and provided energy. BUT I also believe that we are adults and have BRAINS and are IN CONTROL of what we put in our mouths! I also think that corporate/industrial food needs to be better regulated and controlled like the DRUG that it is!

Frances Darcy
Frances Darcy5 years ago

It is our personal choice of what we eat and how much or little we exercise whick has us fat

Elaine A.
Elaine Al Meqdad5 years ago

Probably a better title would have been are we fed to be fat.....Just sayin!

Vicky Madaule
Vicky Madaule5 years ago

And non-processed food is even yummier. Don't believe that McDonald's is really cheaper. You are paying for it all. If you make your own meals, you will actually save money and produce less waste which is better for the planet. And if the oil really does run out, and we start walking and cycling we will also lose weight. The worst thing is drinking soda pop. It is all sugar and empty calories.

David L.
David L5 years ago

@ AB A ~ your previous exercise "plan", or rather, lack thereof ~ screams out to me, that you didn't have a good trainer, or maybe any trainer, to tailor a proper exercise programme to suit your personal and individual needs.

ALSO: have your doctors checked you out for hyperthyroidism, iodine deficiencies, food intolerances (e.g. soybeans, or oxalic-rich fruits, as well as the more usual suspects..), or maybe metabolic disorders coming about from poisons/toxins, heavy metals, pollutants ~ or even an unfortunate combination of medications (sometimes, if there seem to be too many ~ it may help if a doctor stops all med's ~ and then restarts from scratch..).

Just some more possibilities to add to the suggestions you're receiving left, right and centre.

David L.
David L5 years ago

FAT and "Obese" are too different things...

The REAL rate of properly defined obesity isn't as high as many articles and TV shows are suggesting these days ~ though there are still far too many overweight people in general in western countries these days...

BUT only around 5-10-15% will be TRULY "Obese" (as opposed to 20-40% simply being fat..) ~ too many slimming companies and self declared weight-loss guru's are mis-labelling plain fat people as "obese" when they're really not..

SOME of the unscientific "weight charts and tables" being used will even define muscled and athletic people with healthy or even low levels of fat as "obese" on weight alone ~ WITHOUT taking physiology, and general health and fitness, into account.

A TRUE definition of obese, and "clinical" and "morbidly" obese is worked out on % of body fat ~ and NOT on body weights..

Height/weight charts and "BMI" figures are only supposed to be used as a starting point and guidelines by experts who know what they're looking at ~ and NOT as goals or rules by "lay" people who don't even understand what they're looking at.


Jenn C.
Jenn C5 years ago

No, 90% of us were not 'fated' to be fat. For those 90% of us a good balanced diet with a majority of *fresh foods (not processed), good portion sizes, and decent exercise from the beginning would be enough. For the remainder of the population, there is some evidence that genetic conditions and medications have a lot to do with things. There is, it seems, almost an overall 20% discrepancy in where we should be and where we actually are on the weight scale as a society.