Easy Work Joins Delicious Food As a Public Health Menace

This week the online journal PLoS One published a study that links the rising weight trend of the last few decades to a decline in physical exertion at work. Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Louisiana State University exercise researcher Timothy Church and his colleagues report that "in the early1960's almost half of the jobs in private industry in the U.S. required at least moderate intensity physical activity," compared to less than 20 percent today.  This trend, they estimate, translates into an average decline in energy expenditure of more than 100 calories a day. That difference, they say, corresponds very closely to the increase in weight measured by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey during the same period: 

From 1960–62 to 2003–06 we estimated that the occupation-related daily energy expenditure decreased by 142 calories in men. Given a baseline weight of 76.9 kg in 1960–02, we estimated that a 142 calories reduction would result in an increase in mean weight to 89.7 kg, which closely matched the mean NHANES weight of 91.8 kg in 2003–06. The results were similar for women.

In other words, less arduous work seems to account for almost all of the increase in weight. Since people who focus on increased calorie intake claim that it too is an adequate explanation for the "obesity epidemic," our expanding waistlines seem to be an overdetermined phenomenon. While The New York Times calls Church et al.'s findings "one piece of the obesity puzzle," on the face of it that's one piece too many.

Just as we are daily warned about the perils of seductively cheap and dangerously delicious food, the Times story portrays labor-saving technology, the movement from backbreaking farm work to cushy jobs in air-conditioned offices, and even the convenient placement of computer printers as public health menaces. As I noted in my 2004 Reason cover story about the War on Fat, we tend to lose sight of the fact that both of these developments—the fact that making a living is much less physically demanding than it used to be and the fact that food has become much cheaper and easier to get, to the point where the fattest Americans are the poorest Americans—are overwhelmingly positive from a historical perspective. If the downside is that we need to consciously constrain our food intake and actively seek opportunities for exertion, that's a small price to pay for the enormous improvement in living standards that has made it possible for us to worry about weighing too much.

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  • ||

    This is the finest closing I have read in an article (anywhere) in the last six months:
    "If the downside is that we need to consciously constrain our food intake and actively seek opportunities for exertion, that's a small price to pay for the enormous improvement in living standards that has made it possible for us to worry about weighing too much."

  • MCP||

    For SIV,

    Your instructions will be coded into the comments of this thread. Pay careful attention.

  • SIV||

    Man, I need better stalkers.

  • rather retarded||

    You want me to stalk you, small dick?

  • Jim||

    If the downside is that we need to consciously constrain our food intake and actively seek opportunities for exertion, that's a small price to pay for the enormous improvement in living standards that has made it possible for us to worry about weighing too much.

    See, here's your problem. You're not thinking like a liberal. To them, there is no such thing as people choosing "delicious" and "cheap" food. People are forced to eat high cal food because a man dressed as Ronald McDonald comes to their house and puts a gun to their head, forcing them to consume Big Macs.

    Liberals believe there was some mystical balance point in the past at which time people ate correctly (i.e. cooked more, and didn't eat fast food). They fail to understand that cooking everyday is much more difficult with a newly free and liberated woman taking her equal place in the workforce. Also, life expectancy was lower, partly from technology, and partly from the fact that, from what I can tell from photos and movies made at the time, people in the 50s put fucking butter on everything.

  • Somalian Road Corporation||

    You forgot the environmentalist angle of man being an "overconsuming" scourge on the planet that must be pruned/wiped out to ensure Gaian harmony.

  • Jim||

    Oh, and for all the "organic" retards, let me explain something to you: the reason people all over the earth can (generally) afford a lot more food than they used to be able to (which is kind of a big fucking deal in poor countries) is because of mass production and preservatives, allowing things to be produced, shipped, and stored in vast quantities. It isn't a fucking corporate conspiracy. You cannot feed the population of the earth as well as is being done now without the use of some sort of factory production and chemically-enhanced storage.

    Sorry, this is just one of my hot buttons. Rich fucks aren't content to spend twice as much of their own money at an organic store for shit that's going to rot twice as fast, they want to look down their snoots at people who don't want to make that choice. And the worst ones want to force it on everyone else. FUCK the unholy marriage of envirofascists and limousine liberals.

  • rts||

    *insert animated gif of Orson Welles clapping here*

  • Anonymous||

    iseewhatyoudidthere.jpg

  • ||

    It's really just guilt. A lot of people feel surprisingly guilty about having a lot of money or a good life, and they choose stupid fuck things like "organics" as way to both punish themselves and make themselves feel like they're holier than the average asshole (and therefore less guilty--now they've "earned" it).

    And that's fine, but then with some it morphs into "everyone should do this"...and that's where they go from dumbasses to force-initiating-through-laws scumbags.

  • Jim||

    I hadn't thought of it that way. I was just putting it in a Sneeches with stars on their bellies v. those without context. I still hate them.

  • Spencer||

    I wish I was presented with an opportunity like Sylvester McMonkey McBean! I would sell the shit out of some Sneech belly stars/removal process

  • Somalian Road Corporation||

    I think a substantial amount of people have utterly no idea what "organic" means and buy it because they think it's healthier.

  • ||

    Sure, but it costs a lot more, so there's still that "well, I can afford it" aspect to it.

  • Jimbo||

    Not entirely true. I buy "organic" milk because it lasts for months. :p

  • ||

    Ultra Pasteurized milk lasts for months. Being organic has nothing to do with it.

  • Jason||

    Yeah, it's the ultra-pasteurization. Lactose free milk is ultra-pasteurized, too.

  • ||

    It's actually pretty hard to find inorganic food these days. Damn carbon atoms are everywhere.

  • Silicon-based life form||

    Yeah, it fuckin' blows.

  • ||

    from what I can tell from photos and movies made at the time, people in the 50s put fucking butter on everything.

    Even their cigarettes.

  • Jim||

    Especially the cigarettes. And they're lucky Michael Bay wasn't around at the time, or them bitches would have asploded, to boot.

  • ||

    The 50s were dangerous enough without superfluous explosions.

  • sasob||

    ...people in the 50s put fucking butter on everything.

    Most people used margarine rather than real butter.

  • ||

    Wasn't margarine illegal back then?

  • Robert||

    Fucking butter? Is that what they're calling lube these days?

  • Achtung Coma Baby||

    What's the name of the mental illness that Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow have the leads them to believe that building bridges and dams are vital to our economy?

  • Somalian Road Corporation||

    Sometimes my leg tingles too but I lack that particular urge.

  • ||

    The one that recognizes how dependent the economy is on road transportation?

    Though we don't need any more gorram dams.

    We could use some govt spending on improving the electrical grid and maintaining and upgrading sewer systems, but you can't stick a propaganda sign on those and no congressman wants to have a shit pipe named after him.

  • 35N4P2BYY||

    I think it is known as the Roosevelt-ended-the-depression-with-the-New-Deal-and-you-can't-tell-me-any-different-itis.

  • ||

    I'm waiting for the study that explains why fat people not eating right and not exercising is a problem for the government to fix.

  • ||

    I'm sure the NSF has a program for that already.

  • ||

    I have heard people say that since everybody ends up on the taxpayer bill eventually, the government has a vested interest in making sure we eat right.

    ...which if true, of course, is an excellent reason to make sure as few of us are dependent on the taxpayer as possible.

    Somebody must have done the morose side of that cost benefit analysis in the government somewhere too; somewhere there's a study calculating how much money social security and Medicare save--when fat people's hearts finally choke on all that crap they should have choked on when they were shoving it down their gullets.

    It's a terrible thing to think about--that all those big fat tub-o-lard kids grow up to be big fat lard-ass adults. But if your parents and the fear of dying young and being a fat slob all your life isn't enough to make your fat face with cheeseburgers, I don't see what the government is supposed to be effective...

    They can't blame that clown Ronald McDonald either. It's not his fault that parents aren't ashamed of their big fat children.

  • Jimbo||

    I almost want to be fat now just so that I have health problems later in life when I'm eligible for medicare. Unfortunately, I'm too young to ever have any reasonable expectations of seeing that I get *that* money back.

  • ||

    *sips beer*

    *casually glances at document open in ms word*

    *decides to post on h&r instead*

  • ||

    You goldbricking piece of shit. I wish I could be a goldbricking piece of shit right now.

  • ||

    *scratches balls*

    *adjusts position of feet on desk* (you've got to get the keyboard slide-out into the best position)

    *fires up a streaming movie*

    *farts*

  • ||

    STOP NARRATING ME.

  • ||

    Great, we can cut all those unnecessary government desk jobs now.

  • ||

    Yeah. Cut all those government jobs...do it for the fat children!

  • Franny||

    *winks*

  • ||

    From now on, all government makework will involve manual labor.

    And by "manual labor" we do NOT mean standing on a factory line pushing a button.

    We mean chain gangs.

  • Crackin Rocks in the Hot Sun.||

  • ||

    You don't seem to grasp the full scope of this research, and you're painting in the same broad strokes that the Times and Fox News tend to do. Search the scientific literature - extra "exertion" as you put it is not enough, it is the mere fact of sitting 8+ hours a day that is making tangible, negative changes to our physiology. Exercising an hour a day to offset that DOESN'T work. This isn't just one source. Read the literature. Try pubmed.

  • ||

    Tell us more about how sitting 8+ hours a day is changing our physiology. It seems very important to you.

  • ||

    Maybe it's making us live longer. We do, you know.

  • Jimbo||

    Obviously the next step is mandatory manual labor. Do away with the internet and start running those TPS reports to your boss! That'll show em!

  • ||

    Isn't there some science indicating that low-energy, low-consumption lifestyles are better for longevity?

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Isn't there some science indicating that low-energy, low-consumption lifestyles are better for longevity?

    Yes, at least for mice. Seems to be a lot of anecdotal evidence for it working for humans, too. Kind of a boring life, though, isn't it?

  • rather||

    so you're a fat-ass?

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Better than a dumb-ass. Or a smart-ass. ;)

    It's the low-energy part that makes things boring. Yes, you can probably live a long time if you eat very little, avoid stress, don't do much, and are lucky enough not to get cancer or be hit by a car or any of the many other things that could kill you sooner.

    That sound fun to you?

  • Spencer||

    I'm a fatass because of Pizza, Beer, and general sloth. Amazingly, if I cut one of the 3 I cease being said fatass. That trifecta must be regulated against. The government must use some false stat about health expenditure to save meUS from this evil way to spend the entire baseball season.

  • ||

    Um, no. 6'2, 190.

  • ||

    Tell us more about how sitting 8+ hours a day is changing our physiology.

    Hemorrhoids, for one.

  • prolefeed||

    Search the scientific literature - extra "exertion" as you put it is not enough, it is the mere fact of sitting 8+ hours a day that is making tangible, negative changes to our physiology. Exercising an hour a day to offset that DOESN'T work.

    Yesterday I jogged 5K, then rode a bike 5K. Yeah, that hour or so of vigorous activity totally didn't make a bit of difference in my physique.

    You work out HARD for an hour, day after day, you're gonna look pretty good.

  • Robert||

    Maybe alternating between one extreme and the other doesn't avg. out the way people think. Maybe there is indeed some effect peculiar to sitting still for long periods.

  • ||

    Search the scientific literature - extra "exertion" as you put it is not enough, it is the mere fact of sitting 8+ hours a day that is making tangible, negative changes to our physiology.

    Most primates spend the vast majority of their waking hours sitting, so sorry, I don't buy this.

  • ||

    Also, you could have instead focused on the fact that some businesses are now making investments to make their office spaces more active, with standing desks, treadmills, and other such innovations on the way. Instead of using this to rail against the Times and their hatred of labor and Big Food, you could show how we are once again, in the face of ignorance, slowly finding ways to innovate and create, which will lead to happier and more healthy lives for us all. Without government intervention. What a fail this article is.

  • ||

    What the fuck got your panties all bunched up?

  • pmains||

    Maybe it's from sitting in a chair all day and posting on internet forums. You should check pubmed.

  • MCP||

    Are you paying attention SIV?

  • Brian D||

    I'm sure nothing would make a desk jockey happier than having to run on a treadmill throughout his work day to power his computer.

  • ||

    Now, that simply cannot be a coincidence that you run a picture of Woody Allen using the Execusizer the day after I link to a video of it. I demand satisfaction! And none of this "frequent" or "beloved" crap, either. I want an epic adjective like, like "Fleet-footed Pro Libertate" or "Wine-dark Pro Libertate." You know, something Homeric.

  • Jim||

    How about the "Bayesque Pro-Libertate"?

  • ||

    Dear lord, no. That would be just like Bay, too, to insert a hyphen where none belongs.

  • Jim||

    Ach, you wound me deeply. I admit to inserting the offending hyphen, and shall endeavor to take more care in the future!

  • ||

    "The Shiny-Pelted ProL."

  • ||

    Better, but that sound too Italian.

  • ||

    The Yellow-throated Pro Libertate

  • ||

    Really, the classics are dead. If you want to choose one with a sly insult, "rosy-fingered" would be best (from "rosy-fingered dawn"). Rather sad, what Hit & Run is today.

    Screw it, I'll pick: "Bolt-hurling Pro Libertate."

  • ||

    Glancing-eyed Pro Libertate

  • EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy||

    Male-gazing Pro Libertate

  • ||

    Um, no. That's too Homeric.

  • .||

    If you tain't got no liberated tah-tahs, I dasn't really care.

  • ||

    I don't. I wonder if Homer dealt with that topic, though?

  • ||

    Horse-tamer Pro Libertate?

  • ||

    The rosy-findered Pro Libertate, tamer of horses.

  • ||

    See? Hazel knows how to subtly insult with the classics. Excellent. A bronze tripod for Hazel!

  • GILMORE||

    This is why I quit wall st to become a coal miner.

  • Zeb||

    So we know why more people are fat now. Can the food police please shut the fuck up now?

    I think that this is pretty interesting research. It is sad that we have to immediately worry about the inevitable calls for some new laws or regulation that are bound to come.

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger||

    From 1960–62 to 2003–06 we estimated that the occupation-related daily energy expenditure decreased by 142 calories in men. Given a baseline weight of 76.9 kg in 1960–02, we estimated that a 142 calories reduction would result in an increase in mean weight to 89.7 kg, which closely matched the mean NHANES weight of 91.8 kg in 2003–06. The results were similar for women.

    You see Maria, I was helping her stay fit.

  • Cytotoxic||

    OT: thousands of protesters in Egypt urge military government to hurry up the reform. Thought Reason might be interest.

  • ||

    Woody Allen's "Bananas"...great flick

  • ||

    As always with the weight police, these researchers are missing the big picture: that physical labor whose loss they are lamenting can carry health consequences more onerous than those brought on by carrying around a bit of extra weight. Since there are still plenty of physically demanding occupations out there, why did they not do a comparative analysis? Do they honestly believe blue collar workers are healthier?

    My husband, for instance, has been a carpet installer for 23 years. It's true that he weighs less now than he did at 18, when he started out, and this in spite of eating massive amounts of that cheap, tasty food that his betters fret about. As anyone in the real world could foresee, though, there are some minor drawbacks.

    Minor as in constant pain from the irreversible degenerative damage to his back, hips, knees, and hands. He is something of a magician where carpet is concerned, and while times are tough for most installers around here he puts in 10 or 12 hours a day, six or seven days a week just to meet demand. Of course he has to do so with no breaks, because once he stops moving for 30 minutes or so he is too stiff to start again without truly excruciating pain. Somehow the fact that he can easily shoulder rolls of carpet and pad weighing in excess of 200 pounds, carry them up a flight or two of stairs, then run back down and do it again (and again, and again, til it's all off the truck)-- yeah, somehow it doesn't seem to be quite the fountain of youth these idiots imagine it to be.

    His liver's a little beat, too, from the 15 or so years he spent self medicating with booze. While I'm truly thankful that he gave up the booze 7 years ago-- with no 12 step voodoo, he simply quit being a drunk-- I'm not so happy watching him just tough it out when he's in pain. Most guys his age in the business have already been forced to quit installing, and the majority of them have pretty nasty opiate and alcohol habits. It's am occupational hazard, another one, to go along with respiratory problems from inhaling toxic fumes from glue and fibre particles from carpets.

    We have a nice life, don't get me wrong, and he makes very good money. I just question the notion that this is a healthy alternative to a desk job. If the health scolds actually knew anyone in the building trades, or any HVAC guys, plumbers, landscape workers-- if they actually knew any self employed blue collar workers-- I doubt they'd leap to the same conclusions.

  • Robert||

    All true. One substantial factor is that there are a lot of activities that are physically demanding and uncomfortable, but not good exercise. Work that involves warping your body into funny shapes to fit into places and to hold yourself in such positions for long periods. Working where the HVAC is shut off (or just not completely installed), places that are damp or even frankly wet, maybe moldy, or uncomfortably close to major heat sources. Or where you get way past healthful in sun exposure.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    I think you're right. They call it backbreaking work for a reason. That stuff really hits hard when people get older.

  • ||

    Why doesn't he hire someone younger to carry the carpet for him? Sounds like money isn't a problem if he's working that much, and his carpet carrying ability is not what leads people to patronize him.

  • ||

    He has a full time helper, so during the day on weekdays he doesn't't have to do all the heavy lifting himself. Spring and summer are the busiest time of year for him because residential jobs more than double during the months that the thousands of second home owners (rich New Yorkers mostly) who drive the local economy are in residence. This is the time of year that he works 7 days a week every week and also schedules a lot of evening work. Carpet helpers tend to be unskilled young guys, usually in their early twenties, the kind of guys who don't believe in spending summer nights and weekends working, which is reasonable enough. One way or another there are at least a couple of jobs a week where he's on his own.

  • cynical||

    I don't know that they're actually saying that "we need more physically demanding work", so much as that it might explain part of why people are putting on weight.

    If less exertion is one of the main sources of weight gain, there are lots of less harmful ways to make it up -- the sort of low-intensity walking that seniors are encouraged to take up, that sort of thing.

  • repair denture||

    I love my new repair dentures, I can finally eat in confidence and it has completely changed my life.

  • mike bay||

    I'm currently authoring a study that compares the decline of child labor to the rise of type II diabetes in children.

  • Res Publica Americana||

    Why the fuck is this the business of government again?

  • ||

    We could easily make the argument, as Gary Taubes does, that it has to do with an increased consumption of sugar and carbs.

    But what regulatory fun would that be?

    Besides, cutting back on carbs and high fructose corn syrup would hurt the family farm and damage those who receive sugar subsidies! :-)

  • Xenocles||

    The answer to this is, of course, more subsidies. Maybe a tax on their products to punish the users, too.

  • ||

    Wow I never thought about it like that before.

    www.real-privacy.int.tc

  • ||

    Easy Work Joins Delicious Food As a Public Health Menace

    Those Auschwitz camp residents didn't realize how good they had it.

  • mt||

    > the Times story portrays
    > labor-saving technology ...
    > as public health menaces.

    No, it doesn't. Some of us actually read these articles, you know.

  • almightyjb||

    the online journal PLoS One published a study that links the rising weight trend of the last few decades to a decline in physical exertion at work.

    Duh

  • Mr. Mark||

    It is pretty simple: If you don't expend a certain number of calories relative to the food you take in, then your body will accumulate fat.

    Therefore, the findings are right - stuffing your face and not exercising turns you into a lard ass. The only problem is that it is not the business of government to look into it.

    America: MYOFB!!!

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