Does prosperity cause obesity – Matt Owen

Yesterday an article appeared entitled, “Obesity goes global — blame prosperity, bad habits, fast food.” It came out of the Orlando Sentinel and focused on looking at various reason obesity is becoming a global issue.

I’m going to ignore the fast food and bad habits angle, since it’s dubious to think this is a cause. The real gem in this article is prosperity. (There is a gentleman name Matt Owen who supplies a success story in the article. I tried to find him online for an interview, but was unable to. Hopefully, he searches for his name and comes across this. If so, Matt, can you email us?)


Prosperity is an interesting angle. First, let’s look at what the article says:

Intentionally left blank.

Yep, the article doesn’t even address this concern. I have no idea why the editors thought this would be a good title. The focus of the article concerns fast food and exercise.

Let’s play reported and add some reasons prosperity causes obesity:

  • Food is more readily available. Prior to the 1900s a vast majority of people had to perform some sort of manual labor for their food. Whether growing it or working as a laborer, you had to move your body to make money. This was so much the case that people who were obese were revered. They were seen as rich, powerful. Today, hardly anyone has to work the land for their food nor are most people engaged in manual labor.
  • Food choices are more wide ranging. Prior to the advent of grocery stores you were forced to eat what was available locally. If no one in the area farmed potatoes, you didn’t eat potatoes. If you didn’t have money you couldn’t afford many baked sweets. Today, almost everyone has access to a great offering of foods from around the world.
  • Industrialization of food. Prior to the mid-1900s the ability to preserve foods, especially perishable items, from creation to sale wasn’t available. With all the preservatives came longer shelf life. With longer shelf life came a focus on profits. With a focus on profits came the search for cheaper, more often less healthy, ingredients. High fructose corn syrup is a great example if this.
  • Toy development. Up until the 1970s most of the cool toys for kids involved some sort of physical activity. Today, the toys that are the coolest don’t require physical activity nor do they require someone to go outside. This limits exercise and movement.

The consequences of this change upon our society is tremendous, but there is also an unmentioned factor in this. Self control. We’re sufficiently advanced to know that losing weight is an easy proposition … eat less calories than your body demands. Where does this lack of self control come from? I don’t know, but I have a few ideas I’ll share in the future.