The Political Roots of American ObesitySaturday, 04 May 2013 00:00By E. Douglas Kihn, Truthout | Op-Ed
Over the past three decades, the obesity rate in America has by all accounts climbed to astronomical proportions. Over a third of Americans are officially overweight and another 35.7 percent are obese, according to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Conventional experts blame the "wrong food," bad genes, lack of exercise, chemicals in food, and this or that hormone for the problem.
If these factors play any role at all in stoking the epidemic of fat in American, they are themselves only transmission agents and facilitators for the deeper causes. Over the past 30 years, the standard prescription of diet, exercise and increased nutritional education haven't solved the problem. In fact, it hasn't even slowed it down and could even be contributing to the difficulties.
To really beat it, we have to ask why and when. To discern the fundamental causes of the obesity epidemic in the United States, we will need to go back in history and unearth its beginnings, to find out exactly when it all started. Then we can ask it why.
When we do, we will discover that the obesity epidemic in America is essentially a mental health problem, whose underlying causes are economic and political.
Let us begin by examining the chart below, which was compiled in 2006 by the US Center for Disease Control.
Overweight and Obesity, by Age: United States, 1960-2004
Back when it all started
The chart shows that the obesity and overweight numbers held steady until the period 1976-1980. Something important changed between the Carter administration and the Reagan administration, something that drove American adults and children to dramatically increase their calorie intake and consequent body fat. Whatever that change was, it's still with us because American waistlines since that time have continuously grown bigger.
Remember when Reagan was elected in 1980? He came in just at the beginning of the recession of 1981, when thousands of Americans suddenly found their incomes slashed or eliminated. His administration soon took on the unions, with the aim of breaking them. The first famous victim was PATCO - the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization.
On August 3, 1981, the union declared a strike, seeking better working conditions, better pay and a 32-hour workweek. On August 5, following the PATCO workers' refusal to return to work, Reagan fired the 11,345 striking air traffic controllers who had ignored the order and banned them from federal service for life. PATCO wasdecertified from its right to represent workers by the Federal Labor Relations Authority on October 22, 1981.
From that time onwards, American unions have taken a savage beating to the point where only 7 percent of private enterprises are unionized today, and public service union employees - teachers, nurses, office workers, firefighters - are fighting everywhere to keep their jobs and unions.
It was during Reagan's first term that the phrase bean counter came into prominent usage. These were the efficiency experts whose job it was to increase profits for the major corporations, mainly by introducing speedups, job consolidations, forced overtime, the hiring of part-time workers - along with artful and ruthless union-busting.
This was also the beginning of the "War on Iran," the "War on Drugs," the war against the people of Nicaragua and El Salvador (all of them Marxists doubtless bent on rampaging through the streets of US cities) and a dangerous escalation of threats against the Soviet Union/Evil Empire.
As social fear and insecurity rise, mental health declines.