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Just a little observation about being a nation of fat porkers

Summary:
Much is made these days about how we’re all obese and falling over like weighty flies at great cost to the NHS. So much so that supermarkets offering us a deal on food prices must be banned from doing so.As we’ve noted before we don;t in fact believe all of this. Obesity saves the NHS money anyway and it’s up to each one of us how we live our lives and meet our end. The restrictions aren’t justified and shouldn’t be justified that way anyway that is.Some of the evidence called into play doesn’t quite make sense:What would most surprise a time traveller from a hundred years ago about an affluent 21st-century society like ours? Cars would hardly be a shock: the Ford Model T began production in 1908. Similarly, tower blocks and skyscrapers were already becoming familiar a century ago:

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Much is made these days about how we’re all obese and falling over like weighty flies at great cost to the NHS. So much so that supermarkets offering us a deal on food prices must be banned from doing so.

As we’ve noted before we don;t in fact believe all of this. Obesity saves the NHS money anyway and it’s up to each one of us how we live our lives and meet our end. The restrictions aren’t justified and shouldn’t be justified that way anyway that is.

Some of the evidence called into play doesn’t quite make sense:

What would most surprise a time traveller from a hundred years ago about an affluent 21st-century society like ours? Cars would hardly be a shock: the Ford Model T began production in 1908. Similarly, tower blocks and skyscrapers were already becoming familiar a century ago: Chicago’s Home Insurance Building, considered the world’s first skyscraper, was built in 1885. No, the most striking change would be the people themselves. The physical appearance of the average person today is radically different to the average person of 1921. We are much fatter now.

That’s true of the great bulk of us, yes.

We are so accustomed to our prejudices against fat people that it’s easy to forget they are the accidents of a particular cultural moment. The two oldest carvings of human beings (the Venus of Hohle Fels from about 35,000 years ago and the Venus of Willendorf from about 25,000 years ago) depict women who would now be classified as obese. Even if, as archaeologists suggest, these statuettes were not intended as portraits of ideal beauty, they were evidently symbols of power. The paintings of Rubens are almost a cliché of changing beauty standards but they also represent different social attitudes. It was not just Rubens’s nymphs and pagan goddesses who were fat: his Virgin Marys and even his Jesuses were too. Fatness suggested authority and moral solidity.

Not just the moral solidity. Fatness suggested being rich. Because only richer people were gaining that sustained excess of calories to make them so.

Which tells us something important about this past century. This is the first time in human history that the majority of the people have been rich - because this is the first time in human history that the majority of the people have been able to have that sustained excess of calories to be fat.

We can indeed mutter all sorts of things - about swimsuit design perhaps - over the problems that generalised obesity brings to us as a society. But we really do have to remember that this is a victory, that it’s even possible.

For that we are all fat may or may not be a problem but that we all can be is indeed that victory of technological advance over Malthusian constraints.

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Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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