For Capitalists, Obesity Is a Sign of Marketing Success

biggest loserFood Companies Privatize Profits and Socialize Costs by Contributing to Obesity

Hold the skinny jeans, we’re in the middle of a massive obesity epidemic. Every night we have to stare at stock footage of Americans waddling around in their maxed-out sweat pants on the nightly news. It’s clear; we’re fat. Our kids are fat. Our pets are fat. According to some Wall Street insiders, the trader who accidentally entered the wrong number of share orders and nearly crashed the entire market – his fingers are fat.

If you combine overweight and obese, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association about 70% of us are fat. That’s nearly three out of four people in the US – a whopping majority.

But when we talk about this plague that will ensure this generation will die younger than their parents, we always wag our fingers at the “poor choices” fat people are making. It’s a way of blaming the victim, not addressing the issue and not offending business. It’s well-worn creed spouted often and rarely thought about. And we’re still fat.

Two percent of the population and it’s a personal responsibility issue. Seventy percent and it’s a little more complicated.

Here’s the thing: if you’re a capitalist – think it’s the only thing that can drive our economy, spur innovation and create “all that’s good in the world” (or in the case of BP all that’s gooed in the world), if that’s what you think makes America “American” – then obesity is great.

If capitalism is a virtue, fat people are saintly. The obese are good consumers. They’ve clearly done what they’re supposed to do – consume.

Food companies have done a great job with their tenets of capitalism making their products so irresistible – we don’t resist them.

So, stop blaming fat people for doing what companies have urged them to do. That’s like stalking someone for decades and then calling the cops once they agree to go out with you.

This week marks the end to the ninth season of the NBC’s The Biggest Loser , where overweight contestants battle it out to drop pounds. As a middle-of-the-pack runner, I got into the show because I enjoy watching people who are bad at sports do them on national television. Most sports broadcasts have elite athletes showing off their greatness. Who cares. Where do us average, picked-last-in-P.E. schlubs go to see ourselves represented on TV? The Biggest Loser. It takes the egalitarian nature of reality shows and then levels the playing field.

If you watch the show, as millions do, it’s basically a two-hour long infomercial for the overweight. The trainers hock sponsor’s products in staged scenes where contestants ask about healthy meals, ways to store their healthy snacks or are curious about products deemed healthy. Their gym is a sponsor; they tout their own brand of whey protein shakes and their own Wii Fit game. It’s like watching QVC with commercial breaks.

The contestants turn into shills for the companies advertising on the show. “I’m learning how to make the right choices.” In fact The Biggest Loser’s dogmatic phrase “make the right choices” is as about as commercial friendly as possible. Because it doesn’t discourage consuming, it encourages. Has The Biggest Loser thwarted our nation’s epidemic? No, but it has made a bunch of money off of it. Which is the point, right?

Obesity and the hidden costs behind it are a classic example of privatizing profit and socializing losses. The more successful the food industry is, the fatter we become and the more society has to absorb those costs. The military has reportedly turned away over 48,000 recruits since 2005 for being too fat to serve. And if they can’t pass the military’s standard of 26% body fat, they’re not likely to make it as a civilian first responder either.

Tina DupuyObesity is the crowning achievement of the food companies. They don’t have to pay for the health costs of an entire nation being fat. They just reap the rewards of a society that keeps on plumping up and eating more over-processed, nutritionally void catchphrases from people selling us “feeling good.”

Because like we saw with the housing crisis, unregulated big business can lead to disasters of epic proportions. Just like those epic portions on your plate that you’ll admit are a “bad choice.”

Tina Dupuy


  1. Fritz Dahmus says

    Tina….first of all traders don’t accidentally enter in the wrong number of shares with “fat” fingers! I can’t delete a file on my lonely, unimportant, and worldly purposeless PC without confirming the deletion at least once. But I guess that would be another article for you.

    We are fat because we don’t work like dogs as we did in earlier generations. My mother, for one, would be happy that “we all have a little meat on our bones”. She and her generation would call it looking healthy….and she is partially right…we live longer than previous generations. There is more wrong with us because we know more and can detect everything. Please don’t blame it on the food industry and their evil private-world profits. The fix is not in public money, it is in personal responsibility…..go the gym, get a sport and train for it. Even PE losers can enjoy sports of a life long nature…..try hiking. I don’t want Sara Lee regulated. I want my ice cream to have real cream and lots of it. We will take care of ourselves and we don’t need yet another “crisis” we think we can’t handle. We have become a bicycle-helmet-wearing, dog-on-a-leash, seat-belt-wearing, watch-what-you-eat, drink-only-out-of-glass, Prius-driving society because people like you never tire of reminding us of our bad behavior and need for mitigating that behavior with public money. Take care of yourself…let us worry about us!

    • Lauren says

      What a very libertarian response, Fritz.

      In reality, the “public money” you don’t want in the big agro business is already there, in the form of government subsidies that allow corn to be produced so cheaply that not only is high-fructose-corn-syrup the only enticing option for companies to add to their products, but we have enabled our farmers to outsell farmers in Mexico, driving poor Mexican farmers – where? – oh yea, here.

      For someone like you, Fritz, to assume that the capitalist world has not yet been touched by public policy is naive. The real problem addressed in this article is to try to change our policies with foods like this in order to make us healthier. You claim the real answer is to “try hiking.” But if you read at all about obesity, especially in children, it has virtually no relation to the amount of exercise we do, but rather the kind of foods we eat. People become more active when they become skinnier, and less active when they become fatter – they don’t become fatter by being less active, first. It all rests in the food we consume, not the lack of exercise.

      Here’s a great BBC article on that exact issue, entitled “Poor exercise ‘not obesity cause'”:

  2. Adam Eran says

    From your mouth to God’s ear. Thanks for the wonderful reminder.

    Next, we need to revise the public policy that makes a calorie of high-fructose corn syrup cheaper than a calorie of carrot. The timid incrementalism of the Obama administration meant that the Farm Bill only addressed a tiny amount of the subsidies for unhealthy food. Obama planted a White House garden, though….

    • Fritz Dahmus says

      Adam….you sound precious. Do you think you are ingesting crack when you drink a can of soda with high-fructose corn syrup? I know Adam….you wouldn’t be caught dead with a can of soda.


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