Obesity — why now?

The previous post (”Adaptive Morality“) implied that the American obesity epidemic results from one of two things: (i) immoral behavior, or (ii) some new cause which currently has low awareness.

The latter seems more likely. Why? One reason is that obesity arose abruptly in America only in the past 20 years, after over 60 years of gustatory plenty. But the bigger clue is a related, very odd epidemic: thin parents with fat children. Since parents exercise some control over their children’s diet, slim parents would tend usually to result in slim children, barring some new obesity cause with heretofore low awareness.

Here are some possibilities. These are unproven hypotheses, merely correlated trends: both of these have arisen in the past 20 years, exactly concurrent with the obesity explosion.

  • “First-person shooter” video games. I suspect that the chronically activated adrenal response from hours of fight-or-flight action games may flood susceptible individuals with cortisol, causing weight gain. (3/21/07 Addendum: There is some evidence obesity correlates with video games but not television — consistent with the adrenal argument.)
  • Unregulated, powerful, poorly understood stimulant cocktails like Red Bull. Again, I suspect, but can’t prove, that these may chronically activate adrenaline and flood one with cortisol.
  • Prescribed child stimulants like Ritalin, again because of a potential cortisol link. (3/21/07 Addendum: Eric cites that child stimulants are actually prescribed for weight loss. Since stimulants are known to fail long-term — all weight is regained when drugs are stopped — we seem to have made a case for immoral behavior by parents or their doctors.)

Correlation is not causation. But it would be worth some research.

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