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April 20, 2007


Mark Wadsworth

You're mixing up cause and effect. Fat people are lazy, clever people are thin.


"This suggests a basic evolutionary (subconscious) mechanism is still at work - animals store up fat as a larder against future bad times."

Possibly but the answer may be more straighforward? Those who are most likely to be unemployed are those who previously would have been able to pick up unskilled or semiskilled jobs in, say, Govan shipyards fairly easily. People accustomed to physical labour tend to have high fat diets. With the loss of so many of these jobs, people are left with the sort of eating habits that were necessary for energy but now have relatively sedentary diets.


Read chapter 6 of George Orwell's "The Road to Wigan Pier", written in 1936:



Alternatively, cheap food is often not very nutritious and fattening. Too much wheat, corn and sugar. I ate an "economy" pizza the other day an realised how poor the quality is.


I think scumble is closer to the truth then the other theories. A cheap diet is full of empty calories and starches, etc., that lead to weight gains. The poor will eat a hamburger at McDonald's that has many starches and calories while the affluent will eat lean meat and vegetables and/or a salad at a sit down restaurant.


Yes, yes. I've also wondered about this but it's true. Interesting phenomenon - can it be explained by economics?

Mark Wadsworth

scumble and spencer, you've got it wrong. I live off chips and cheese omelettes, drink like a fish and am as thin as a rake.


David Friedman was thinking about poor fat folk today:


Maynard Handley

"The poor will eat a hamburger at McDonald's that has many starches and calories while the affluent will eat lean meat and vegetables and/or a salad at a sit down restaurant."

Right. Last time I checked expensive restaurants frowned on using ingredients like butter, cream and cuts of meat striped with fat.

WTF is it about food that causes people's brains to switch off? Even those who supposedly car about the poor simply cannot help themselves from turning into scolding nannies tut-tutting about what people eat based on some random concoction of factoids, most of which are wrong.

You want to see why groups like the GOP continue to maintain any sort of power no matter how much they screw up --- here's your answer. You can always find some subject which is fertile ground for creating some story about why the poor and weak deserve what they have, and people will lap it up. It'll take thirty years or more before real science managed to clean up the mess, at which point you simply need a new story. The upcoming contender: "Why are the poor poor --- because they play too many videogames."

Bruce G Charlton

Thanks for this link - and the topic is a very important one.

However, the paper is 180 degrees wrong in its causal assumption.

In modern conditions with an abundance of convenient, tasty and calory-dense food (and given the lack of an evolved sensitive satiety mechanism in humans - because it was not needed in our evolutionary history) it is natural and spontaneous to get fat.

In a nutshell, left to their instincts everybody would get fat in modern conditions.

So the proper question is NOT why do the poor get fat. The proper question is: How do the middle classes manage to stay thin?

The answer is not known precisely, but the process is probably rationally-driven (ie. people deliberately refraining from eating what they like when they like), and related to suppressing current desires (pleasure of eating) in favour of longer term strategies (looking and feeling better).

Deferring satisfactions (eg. consuming education rather than pleasures) is the standard route to success in modern societies; and the wealthier sections of the population are better at this across the board - not least because that is a major reason why they are wealthier. That is also why wealthier people smoke less.


The stuff about unemployment and welfare are probably confounders and red herrings.

People seem to neglect or forget that the poor are equally poor in Europe as they are in the USA (yes, true - although the rich are much richer in the USA) and Europeans suffer the disadvantage of much higher rates of unemployment than US workers.

The US just has a _much_ more successful economic system than Europe.

Chris Tipper

Perhaps all this theorising is moot. I note that poorer people tend to be less well educated. Is it conceivable that in the US and UK this also correlates with poor cooking skills and lack of concern for the nutritional value of fresh ingredients (and also the cost, but I am trying to ignore that). The lack of obesity in Sweden and France is simply cultural. Catholic nations in particular have venerated their food over the centuries and there is no "Protestant Guilt" about eating well (though we are all secular, we still suffer from history).

Matt Munro

As I posted in the thread about choice I think a psychological experiment sheds some light on this apparent paradox:

Under controlled laboratory conditions, when offered unlimited food, low status rats will gorge on it, fattening themselves up, whereas high status rats will eat moderately, reamaining realatively thin and conserving the food supply.
This seems counter intuative at first, and it can be interpreted in different ways, but the most likely is that high status rats are, by virtue of their status, able to monopolise the food supply and would be first at the trough if supplies were scarce, their supply is relatively secure and they have no need to fatten up.
By comparison, low status rats, lacking the ability to access the food supply at will, do not see future meals as secure, they would be last in line if the food started running out, so they gorge themselves while they can, to fatten up as insurance against future famine.
Obviously I'm not suggesting that rats "think" this but that biological drives, combined with a darwinian pecking order, modify and reinforce sucesfull feeding behaviour.
Read acrosss to humans and the same logic works. The middle class professional with a secure well paid job, has no reason to think that he will be unable to afford a meal tomorrow, so no reason to get fat. By comparison the low paid menial worker, with the threat of uneployment and the grind of poverty an ever present, fattens up while he can as insurance against leaner times.
This model would also explain why eating disorders are a largely middle class affliction (an extreme affirmation of status) and why they are unknown in poor societies where the threat of starvation is real.
The effect is reinforced culturally in that because the most clinically obese are poor, poor women have a fatter baseline to compare themselves to, and can claim to be thin when compared to the worst examples of obseity in their peer group. The opposite is true for rich women who have anorexic role models against whom they compete to be thinnest.

john b

Sweden, that famous nation of Catholics.


Its to do with the production of a stress hormone being greater the poorer you are. This imbalance appears to be related to weight outcomes.
Rather than bash the poor for bad food choices, or retailers for abandoning poor neighborhoods, or the usual "exercise more" bossiness, the distriubution of income becoming more unequal suggests further obesity among the poor will follow. And that efforts to promote redistribution could improve waistlines.


Well I love this topic,where do I start...probably we all should think about all those cheap stores like Lidl where you can buy lots of crap food for few bucks and all the people pressured by the lack of money or just showing unintentional affection toward junk food ...whatever the reason is the average dumb poor and FAT Joe will always shove junk up his mouth as long as being fat is socially acceptable, as long as being fit is not a national philosophy of life ...and yes as long as he doesn't get his fat,lazy dumb ass off the couch and start working out. Being poor,fat and dumb is WRONG!!!

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