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Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World Hardcover – January 14, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0618164721 ISBN-10: 0618164723 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

You reap what you sow. According to Critser, a leading journalist on health and obesity, America about 30 years ago went crazy sowing corn. Determined to satisfy an American public that "wanted what it wanted when it wanted it," agriculture secretary Earl Butz determined to lower American food prices by ending restrictions on trade and growing. The superabundance of cheap corn that resulted inspired Japanese scientists to invent a cheap sweetener called "high fructose corn syrup." This sweetener made food look and taste so great that it soon found its way into everything from bread to soda pop. Researchers ignored the way the stuff seemed to trigger fat storage. In his illuminating first book (which began life as a cover story for Harper's Magazine), Critser details what happened as this river of corn syrup (and cheap, lardlike palm oil) met with a fast-food marketing strategy that prized sales-via supersized "value" meals-over quality or conscience. The surgeon general has declared obesity an epidemic. About 61% of Americans are now overweight-20% of us are obese. Type 2 (i.e., fat-related) diabetes is exploding, even among children. Critser vividly describes the physical suffering that comes from being fat. He shows how the poor become the fattest, victimized above all by the lack of awareness. Critser's book is a good first step in rectifying that. In vivid prose conveying the urgency of the situation, with just the right amount of detail for general readers, Critser tells a story that they won't be able to shake when they pass the soda pop aisle in the supermarket. This book should attract a wide readership.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Childhood obesity, diabetes, and related illnesses are becoming major health problems in America. Nutrition journalist Critser presents a critical analysis of the many social and economic factors that make Americans, contrary to the book's subtitle, the second-fattest people in the world (the South Sea Islanders are fatter). He blames parents' reluctance to monitor their children's eating habits; the marketing tactics of fast-food companies, which influence us to overeat; the preponderance of fad diets; the phasing out of physical education programs in schools; and the sale of fast foods at schools to save money on dining facilities. Lower-income families have higher rates of obesity regardless of race, ethnicity, and gender, which the author attributes to lack of information about diet and exercise and the wide diversity of cultural beliefs about weight, body size, and self-esteem. Critser urges Americans to tackle obesity head on, concluding with descriptions of initiatives that worked when communities launched a cooperative effort to change their eating habits and avoid the path to lifelong obesity. An important work that belongs in all nutrition and public health collections. [See also Robert Pool's excellent Fat: Fighting the Obesity Epidemic and Eric Schlosser's scathing Fast Food Nation.-Ed.]-Irwin Weintraub, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., New Yor.
--Irwin Weintraub, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., New York
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (January 14, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618164723
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618164721
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (105 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,018,897 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Greg Critser is an award-winning writer about medicine, science, food and health. His work has appeared in periodicals ranging from the New York Times to the Times of London, and from Harper's to the New Yorker. He is the author of the best seller Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World (Houghton Mifflin 2003), and the award-winning Generation Rx: How Prescription Drugs are Altering American Minds, Lives and Bodies (Houghton 2005). His new book, Eternity Soup: Inside the Quest to End Aging, will be published by Random House in January 2010. He has lectured widely at universities and medical schools, and his blog can be found at Scientificblogging.com.

Customer Reviews

Very detailed, with well researched supporting information, it is well worth reading.
Burgundy Damsel
Critser, formerly overweight himself, makes many keen observations in this book about the several different causes of the American fat epidemic.
Later on in the book, he cites a study whose conclusions are rather shaky and unverified, but which, if true, would bolster his hypothesis.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

104 of 114 people found the following review helpful By Groovy Vegan VINE VOICE on March 14, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Back in the 1970s and before, about 25% of the American population was overweight. But in the late 80s, the rate of overweight spiked upwards, and is now around 60 percent. Also, the rate of obesity in children has doubled in 30 years, with about 25% of Americans under age 19 overweight or obese. Why? What has happened between the 1970s and today to cause this dangerous and dramatic increase in overweight and obesity? Journalist Greg Critser does a thorough job of answering this question in just 176 pages (the appendix begins on page 177). In addition, he presents the above statistics and more, discusses the hazards of obesity, the politics behind overly lax weight and exercise recommendations to the American public, and discusses why the low income people are more obese as a group than high income people.
There�s the obvious answer as to why Americans have a huge weight problem: We eat more and exercise less. But Critser digs much deeper than this. Why do we eat more? For one thing, fast food restaurant meals and movies theater snacks are supersized. And Critser quotes research studies that people tend to clean their plates, regardless of how big the plate is. So why are meals supersized? Critser describes the history of supersizing, (the brainchild of David Wallerstein of the McDonald�s corporation), with the skill of a master story teller. Each of Critser�s discussion topics, such as childhood obesity and lack of exercise, is treated with considerable depth. Critser ends on a positive note, presenting some solutions that have worked on a small scale in areas of California, and are worth trying in other parts of the U.S.
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78 of 86 people found the following review helpful By doomsdayer520 HALL OF FAME on April 18, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Here Greg Critser lays out the appalling and well-known statistics on obesity in America. In recent years the numbers of overweight people have ballooned alarmingly, along with all of the associated health problems. These horrific increases are not natural and also cannot be explained easily. Critser, formerly overweight himself, makes many keen observations in this book about the several different causes of the American fat epidemic. There are economic causes, such as the increased use of cheaper but more fattening artificial sweeteners in food manufacturing, or the relentless push of the fast food and snack industries to increase market share. Cultural influences include the current politically correct acceptance of the overweight (actually a mortal fear of hurting someone's feelings), the popularity of baggy fashions, and even the media fascination with J. Lo's.... There are even some religious influences - see the title of this review. Critser's greatest achievement here is his bold stance on the class issues behind the obesity epidemic. Poor people (of any race) are far more prone to being overweight, as healthy foods and exercise programs are too expensive, and many poor people can't even get simple exercise outdoors due to fears of crime. The politically correct aversion to discussing class issues in any way breeds a real sense of denial about these problems. Critser studies all these troublesome trends in very enjoyable and often brutally honest ways, holding no punches as he describes the dire consequences for American society. Beware that some of Critser's scientific coverage gets bogged down in statistical overload, while popular culture is his obvious weak point - like his disastrous take on hip-hop fashions in Chapter 3.Read more ›
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52 of 57 people found the following review helpful By M. JEFFREY MCMAHON TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 24, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Critser is no victim-based advocate calling for lawsuits against fast-food corporations in this incisive, analytical manifesto, which successfully penetrates the underlying causes of America's obesity epidemic. He explains that the obesity rate, which was always stable at around 25%, shot up to 60-65% in the 1980s and he provides a coherent narrative, packed with well-documented statistics, to show the major forces of that obesity spike. He shows that Earl Butz, Secretary of Agriculture for Nixon, was a key player in making the environment conducive to our being fat. In the 1970's, under Butz's charge, farmers grew more corn to make a cheaper form of sugar, High Frutose Corn Syrup, which metabolizes in far more dangerous ways than regular sucrose. Secondly, he made a deal with Malaysia, allowing them to export palm oil, also called "hog's lard," to America. Palm oil turns out to be a form of trans fat which, with a shelf life of infinity, clogs our arteries. The other enviromental condition that led us down a path of obesity was the Super-Size-Me Philosophy spawned in the fast-food industry. Shrewd business men who wanted greater profits preyed on our psychology and created a new way to make us fat:

1. Disguise our piggishness by making huge bags of fries rather than shaming us into buying two bags.
2. Combine low-profit (hamburgers) with high-profit (soda and fries) foods to create a "value meal."
3. Emphasize price and value over taste and presentation, which they found to their giddiness, made us eat MORE.
4. Banish the shame of gluttony. Create a culture where it's cool to overeat in the same way that it's cool to drive a big SUV and be a huge, conspicuous consumer.
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