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Welcome to STop, the Seattle Times Opinion blog where our editorial writers and editors share their evolving thoughts on a variety of issues. STop is a place where opinion writers and readers can exchange views and readers can learn more about how editorial positions are formed.

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October 19, 2005

Epidemic Fatness


I come with some skepticism to our story on obesity, here. The story reports that more people are getting fat, though that is not how the advocates put it. They say there is an “epidemic” of obesity, which is a way of stating it that invites a solution—a political solution, with well-paid people to work on it.

Pardon me for my cynicism.

Why is it, the article asks, that the rate of obesity is greater in South King County than in Seattle, or on the Eastside or the North End? The advocates’ first thought is that there are so many fast-food places in South King County. Then there is a thought that in certain neighborhoods, poor neighborhoods especially, there are few places to get fresh produce. Maybe the problem is “access.”

Where the advocates think “access,” I think “market demand.” Fast-food flourishes where people buy fast food. Produce departments flourish where people buy produce.

The article says produce has become more expensive and packaged foods like frozen pizza haven’t, and quotes a poor person saying she can’t afford fresh produce. Well, it depends on what kind of produce it is: Potatoes? Mangoes? Red delicious apples? The new “honeycrisp” apples I just bought for $1.99 a pound? Produce comes in varied prices, and often is on sale cheap.

I wouldn’t accept the word of a poor person, or any person, who says he's buying frozen pizzas because that’s all he can afford. Packaged foods are not cheap compared with making things from scratch. What tends to be cheap, year in and year out, are such things as a sack of potatoes, a sack of rice, a sack of onions, a bag of pinto beans, a bag of lentils, a whole chicken, a pound of hamburger.

I don’t doubt that more people are getting fat, and, as the story says, it is not for reasons of genetics. Obviously: has our genetics changed in 25 years? Only a bit, through immigration mainly, and that’s not it. Immigrants are probably thinner than native-born Americans. Nor is it because we are driving more in cars than 25 years ago. We drove lots then. It is because there is more rich food today, and because we like it, we buy it and we eat it. To call it an “epidemic” is to mangle the language. Epidemics happen to people. This is something people are doing by choice.

Respond to Bruce.

 
Posted by Bruce Ramsey at October 19, 2005 11:27 AM



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