On May 26, the New York Times published a report of a new study on causes of obesity. The study examined changing rates of physical activity in the workplace. Its conclusion? Sedentary work is a major cause of rising rates of obesity in the United States.
The shift translates to an average decline of 120 to 140 calories a day in physical activity, closely matching the nation’s steady weight gain over the past five decades, according to the report.
Eric Schlosser and I wrote a letter to the editor pointing out a few flaws in that argument. The Times did not publish our letter, but here it is:
To the editor:
It makes sense that sedentary work is a factor in the current obesity epidemic (May 26). But it cannot be an important cause. The changing American workplace cannot explain why the obesity rate among the nation’s preschoolers has doubled in recent years and that among elementary schoolchildren has tripled.
The rise in obesity worldwide is linked to the embrace of the American diet, not to a decline in manufacturing.
In China, childhood obesity has increased at least five-fold since 1985.
Simplest explanations are usually best. Reversing obesity means eating less and making healthier food choices.
It also means making it easier to do that by setting policies that promote smaller portions, lower prices on fruits and vegetables, restrictions on marketing food to children, and healthier school meals.
Of course, an increase in well-paid manufacturing jobs would help too.
—Marion Nestle and Eric Schlosser