Marketing, science caused obesity ‘epidemic’

They call it an obesity “epidemic.” Now, an epidemic in my profession is something that sneaks up when you’re unprepared, when you’re minding your own business — and wreaks havoc.

So obesity is no more a human epidemic than cars are an automotive epidemic. We did it on purpose. Famine and thinness have been the usual human experience since time began. If your tribe wasn’t able to find enough food or didn’t have super efficient metabolism, then the women stopped having periods and the next generation didn’t materialize — end of story.

So everyone in your family, office and bingo club is the product of a successful search for food. Not much more than 50 years ago, an historical eye blink, famine still had its way with most of humanity.

But now famine is almost exclusively the product of bad governments. What happened?

Imagination and inventiveness happened. They unhinged humans from the rest of life on the planet.

Every species goes through boom-and-bust population cycles. The nastier things eat the cuter things until they’ve eaten most of them and then the nastier things starve. Whether it’s beetles, bacteria or grizzly bears.

Using those God-given uniquely human traits, imagination and inventiveness, we learned how to avoid and kill all manner of beetles, bacteria or bears. We also learned how to better propagate some life forms like wheat and chickens. And then we ate them — so, slowly, more people; slowly, more inventiveness and imagination. Then we took over the planet and took our place in the boom part of the cycle permanently.

Now the billions of us call inventiveness “science.” We call imagination “marketing.” These uniquely human qualities are insatiable. This plays out providing more than enough bushels of wheat and corn thanks to the science, and you hook all that to marketing and you get prosperity. Corn can become pasta and whiskey. Wheat becomes croissants and donuts. Mix in more science and marketing it all becomes cheap. Thus the obesity epidemic.

And now our finely tuned science and marketing are working on this so-called epidemic. Perhaps the marketing can find ways to make garbanzo beans and herbal teas outsell hot wings and slushies — I’m not holding my breath.

Finally, in my profession I’m seeing our science try to make your metabolism, which is geared for famines, more like mine which automatically burns off most all my extra calories.

That’s something medical science can market. Win-win.

Bruce Ippel, M.D., is a solo rural family physician in central Indiana and an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Police Reivew Foundation. For the past 38 years, Dr. Ippel has run a private “hardscrabble” clinic serving the under-served. Send comments