Obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease are major health problems in most industrialized nations, and particularly in the United States. A great deal of time, effort, and money is poured in to programs to “educate” people about healthy eating and regular exercise in combating these problems.
This Web site hosted by the United States Department of Agriculture is built around the new “Food Pyramid” and is chock-full-o’ information designed to help you:
- Make smart choices from every food group.
- Find your balance between food and physical activity.
- Get the most nutrition out of your calories.
- Stay within your daily calorie needs.
Do these kinds of exhortations about what kinds of behaviors people should engage in to be healthy serve any purpose?
Fuck no! They are a total, unmitigated waste of time, effort, and resources. (Gee, could you see that coming?) This is because, as an inescapable consequence of biological reality, telling people how to behave has very little effect on how people actually behave. And this is especially true for evolutionarily ancient types of behavior like eating, drinking, and fucking.
The biological drive to perform these behaviors is implemented by parts of the brain that operate almost completely outside conscious awareness. Furthermore, those parts of the brain have the ability–for very good evolutionary reasons–to almost completely dominate the parts of the brain responsible for conscious decision-making and voluntary action.
Just like abstinence education–exhorting people not to fuck–has no effect on how much people fuck, nutritional and health education–exhorting people to eat healty foods, restrict caloric intake, and exercise regularly–has no effect on people’s dietary and exercise behaviors. However, it is not only the overwhelming power of innate biological drive that determines sexual and ingestive behavior; learned habits that arise out of interactions of each human being with the environment also have a very powerful influence.
People grossly underestimate the power of innate biological drive and habit in determining their actions, and grossly overestimate the power of “choice”. People also grossly underestimate the power of their environment in reinforcing (or extinguishing) habits, and grossly overestimate the power of “will”.
If you want people to exercise and eat healthily, you have to create an environment that makes it easy to develop the habit of exercise and healthy eating. The main reason that poor people have a much greater incidence of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease is that they live in environments that make it extremely difficult to develop healthy habits, and reinforce unhealthy habits. It has nothing to do with them being “lazy” or “lacking willpower”, and everything to do with the destructive environment they live in.
What does this entail as a practical matter? Stop creating massive economic incentives–like the Farm Bill–that encourage production and sale of fuckloads of high-fructose corn syrup in the form of processed prepared foods and beverages instead of healthy unprocessed foods. Stop creating massive economic incentives–like the Interstate highway system–that encourage use of automobiles at the expense of walking or cycling.
Instead of subsidizing the high-fructose corn syrup industry, start subsidizing healthy grains, fruits and vegetables, and proper humane animal husbandry for production of healthy meats. Instead of subsidizing automobile travel, start subsidizing infrastructural projects that encourage walking and bicycling.
If we have the political will as a nation to oust these fucking craven scum who are beholden to corporate interests that thrive under the current system of powerful economic incentives, we can alter our environment in ways that will inexorably lead to much healthier eating and dramatic increases in exercise. Continuing with the current system of incentives is gonna fucking kill us all.