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Ditto for the obesity crisis - the solution isn't to make less caloric foods, it's to change the culture of excessive portion sizes and sedentary lifestyles.

Agree that our sedentary lifestyles are a significant contributing factor to obesity, but you have it backwards about portion sizes.

Calorie dense (palatable) foods trigger our the reward centers in our brain more than non-palatable foods, and actually make us more hungry. This is an evolved survival strategy.

If you look at hunter gatherer diets, they will eat huge portions of extremely high calorie foods when they are available (e.g. drinking whole glasses of honey). They don't put on a lot of weight because they are more active, and don't have daily access to high calorie foods.

This means that large portions (and by extension obesity) are caused by the easy availability and low cost of high calorie foods. Telling people to eat less doesn't work because the systems that trigger hunger and fat retention work at a subconscious level and are in general more powerful than the conscious mind. The food environment that we have built up around us is a bad one for human beings.

If you want to learn more about how our hunger and fat regulation systems work then I can highly recommend "The Hungry Brain" by Stephan Guyenet [1].

[1]: https://www.amazon.com/Hungry-Brain-Outsmarting-Instincts-Ov...

I really don't think it needs to be that complicated. French cuisine, for example, is full of butter, fat, wine, and other theoretically unhealthy foods.

Yet the French have dramatically lower rates of obesity than the Americans, and recent increases in the French obesity rate are mostly due to Americanization / a drift from traditional French food culture.

I obviously don't have the data, but I think it's simply because meals are traditionally "sacred" in French culture (that is, you don't eat snacks in between meals) and because portion sizes are much, much smaller than the American equivalent.

Europeans who travel to America joke about how much weight they're going to gain on their trip, but it's not really a joke. There's just so much food. American restaurants serve appetisers that are big enough to be a main course and main courses that could feed a family.

Everything about the American food culture works to subtly distort your sense of what a sensible portion looks like. A Big Gulp is a grotesque amount of soda, but it seems almost parsimonious compared to a Double Gulp. It's almost like gaslighting - you're constantly being told that vastly excessive portions are the norm.


Not just that, also the amount of sugar in those portions is astounding. Luckily, when I visited the USA for 3 weeks, I didn't have time to get accustomed to that, and I actually didn't enjoy to eat that kind of food. Unluckily, now that I've been living in the UK for 6 months - where the amount of sugar is less than in the UK, but much higher than in Italy where I used to live - I'm starting to notice it less and less.

> Europeans who travel to America joke about how much weight they're going to gain on their trip, but it's not really a joke. There's just so much food. American restaurants serve appetisers that are big enough to be a main course and main courses that could feed a family.

I've heard this a lot but never experienced it. Are portions smaller in NYC (which is the only place in the US I've visted much)?

I definitely think so from my limited experience. I ate what seemed like normal meals in bars and ethnic restaurants in NYC, but in other areas we'd go to some place like Chilli's were the calories are insane - most appetizers are over 1000kcal, and most single courses 1500-2000kcal.

Obviously this varies a lot from restaurant to restaurant. But yes in general portion sizes tend to be larger in the US southeast and midwest regions.

I haven’t researched it, but I’m pretty sure the american diet has the highest amount of concentrated sugar (the most calorie dense foodstuff). Processed foods with added sugar are the most highly valued by your brain and so trigger overeating more than any other.

French food culture values home cooking from fresh ingredients which I assume results in food with lower concentrations of processed sugar.

Lack of sugar perhaps? Someone sent me a link a while ago showing how sugar triggers the body to store fat. Keto diets are similar in principle and many people claim to loose weight on them.

What about the relative levels of appetite suppressants (e.g. smoking) between the two cultures?

According to Wikipedia, the rates of cigarette consumption are basically the same:

#63 - France #69 - U.S.


If this were truly the determining factor in the American obesity crisis, we'd see similar outcomes in all developed economies (which, obviously, we don't).

Let's not throw our hands in the air and blame the quirks of evolutionary biology when there are clearly better examples to follow.

What do you mean obviously we don't. Obesity in France is at 24%, closely behind the US and the UK. And obesity is rising in countries around the world as access to "western" diets increases.

The obesity rate is the US is at over 36%, so at quite a distance to France [1].

The overall rank of all countries by body mass index places the US at #9 and France at #43. [2]

Evolutionary psychology is fine for producing plausible-sounding explanations, but I have not yet heard a single case where it actually produced something of scientific value.

Sure, aeons of scarcity obviously made us like food. But as can be seen with this example, culture often plays a much bigger role.

[1] https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/29-most-obese-countries-...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_body_mass...

Obesity rates in both France and the US are rising at similar, alarming rates. In the mid-90s the US surpassed 24% obesity rates, and at that time France was at less than 10%.

This is crazy. What are we doing? Nobody chooses to be fat, except maybe sumo wrestlers and a few other strange outliers.

One successful approach seems seems to be education at schools and banning junk food there: "From 2012 to 2015, the number of overweight and obese children has dropped by 12%." https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/apr/14/amsterdam-so...

Here is a chart from Wikimedia, showing the incidence of obesity by country in OECD countries in the period 1996-2003:


Rates vary from 3.2% (Japan) to 30.6%. The median value is somewhere around 13%. Clearly there is more at work than evolutionary biology/psychology.

I feel like it's more related to the refined sugar added to improve the shelf live in the supermarket in the 50ies that are responsible, it's something they didn't have access back in the days. It's clearly something our body is not used to and store it straight into fat. (sugar triggers the same area in the brain as cocaine, so it's clearly addicting) So it looks like it's more about food evolution that went too fast for our body to adapt in time. And that is different based on DNA too, some people get a lot fatter than other, slow/fast metabolism ...

+1 about sugar.

Regarding evolution, I don't think we would like to have a few billion deaths to let our DNA "adapt"

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