The rise of the fatties has no single cause. It is a multivariable problem with many different features. What we can all agree on is that people of all types are getting fatter with no end in sight. At the same time as this meteoric rise in obesity rates, Americans also saw a rise in eating disorders of the purge and starvation variety (bulimia and anorexia). These two disorders became cultural phenomena with many think pieces, sob stories and Hollywood attention. Why the rise of both obesity and on the other end of the spectrum, eating disorders?
It is fun to read Harvard's take on this. A government program will get kids moving and not watching images of unattainable beauty! We need to not stigmatize fat people! A good recommendation is trying to push more home cooked meals. This runs into a problem. Americans have the time to cook them now but simply do not want to. The average American watches well over 4 hours of television a day, which is enough time to pack a lunch and cook a dinner if one wanted to. People do not. Americans, especially 21st century comfortable Westerners, take the path of least resistance.
The path of least resistance contributes to America's downfall. Why deal with something when you can take the easy way out? With demoralization of Americans and the rise in deaths of middle aged white Americans in the news, eating oneself into gargantuan clothes is another sign of emptiness. Fill the boredom with eating. Like druggies and alcoholics, these addicts do not stop and the food never ever says no. Obesity is another sign of our decay and decline as no one gives a shit about appearances anymore. This is shameless America.
Grerp ran through the causes for the rise in obesity well, and the media discusses it enough too, but why the rise in anorexia at the same time? Seems no one really knows, and the old correlation of higher socioeconomic status and anorexia/bulimia is not as strong as in days of old if it exists at all. There is something at play though in how it is mainly a white girl problem as even in weeks of searching, the only things I could find about black women and eating disorders were "me, too!" type articles that threw overeating as a disorder in a desperate attempt to say it affects black women at the same rate as whites.
We are not talking about as high of a population as the obese crowd, but what might be coming into play here? First is the idea of sexual marketplace value. Staying thin can keep one's value high. The fear of becoming fat can make one compulsive about maintaining a slender physique. Being thin to increase value can cause some women to become anorexic/bulimic to gain an edge. As American women grew fatter through the years, this made thinness an even greater premium, creating more incentives to be thin. This is in contrast to years past where there were maybe 2% obese and they were shut ins and 1/3 of women were overweight, but a sliver in that might be good overweight if placed well. Women had to compete on many things for mates, not simply "I've got a good body".
In contrast to years past, the sexual marketplace is not as much to find a husband as it is to find sex partners and maintaining curb appeal would force a woman to keep competitive with that fresh crop of 18-21 year olds hitting bars every single year. If you're just looking for a girl for the night, it does not matter what she acts like as long as she is on the "Go Team" and has a nice figure. Facial beauty is just a light switch away after all. We live in the age of the butterface, and this is part of it.
It is not just a sexual marketplace issue but a social class issue. Obesity is more prevalent among the poor. While the surveys are finding that eating disorders are becoming looser in their connection to class, there is still a strong connection to eating disorders and white women. Socioeconomic class over time has become pretty clearly correlated to race, which is a big part of the "evaluations" when one group dates out. Are you dating up or down? Women of middle to upper-middle class do not want to become fat to be like "those icky poor people". Women don't want to become fat like one of those Wal-Mart patrons or those girls at bars that sweat the moment they walk in the door. They don't want to get fat and have no guy talk to them, sorry, no white guy talk to them. Becoming fat became a way to class yourself down.
These women do not want to put in the effort like yoga, weightlifting, watching their calories, not eating ice cream every night so why not just skip a meal? Far easier. Far far easier to just blame avoiding food on a food allergy, and boy, have those risen in incidence, so easy to hide there. This is another least resistance path as starving oneself is much easier than working on your body and counting the calories and eating balanced. Just avoid the food, make it disappear, and the problem goes away. At my high school, eating disorders were so rampant they routinely brought in speakers who spoke of losing it all from anorexia. The girls track team or swim team would listen, and no one would care. They passed on their disorder like a cold. It was more a ritual though as they repeated the same tricks to avoid eating.
There are long term consequences, and like obesity and other addiction issues, there is always the fear that it might come back. When a fat person does lose weight, it is a great thing, but there is the fear that those pounds will return. It's not unrealistic body image expectations and it is not pressure to be thin. Anorexics have agency and choose to compete on being thin. The obesity problem is human weakness and how we have shaped a society to consume now and think later. Yes, television advertisements push food non-stop, but fatties have agency. No one is shoving the Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies in their face for them.
Grerp's essay on this subject is here.