Why Americans Stay Fat

Family lore has it that the first word out of my mouth as a toddler was “Pepsi.”  I loved the dark-colored cola over milk, juice or water, and as soon as my mom would go out I grabbed hold of the apron of our lovely family helper with my plea, “Annie Mae, Pepsi, Pepsi.”

As a consequence of this parental defiance, I have always had to watch my weight.  Drinking a sweetened soda at a young age set my taste buds primed for other things that just weren’t good for my growing body, including candy, hot dogs and chips.

By the time I knew better about what to choose and what to leave out it was almost too late.  Early eating habits stick with you and are hard to break.

Now it’s 2012 and America’s longest running conflict continues.  Of course I’m not referring to Afghanistan but the battle with the bulge.  New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to ban super-size 64-ounce sodas that are sold in convenience stores like 7-Eleven and limit sugary drinks in restaurants and street carts to 16 ounces.  Many citizens who want to drink what they want in whatever size container have ridiculed his Nanny state approach.  The major soda drink suppliers, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, have also met the proposal with silence.

Until now.

Katie Bayne, with the dazzling title of president of sparkling beverages in North America, is now fighting the good fight for Coca-Cola.

Katie Bayne, Sugar Evangelist

In an exclusive interview with a marketing reporter for USA Today, Bayne said, “There is no scientific evidence that connects sugary beverages to obesity.”  She does not like her company being singled out for expanding waistlines.  In fact, sugary drinks are just fine for the American diet as long as the calories taken in balance with the calories burned.  She goes many steps beyond the call of duty, arguing that sugary drinks offer the key to a vibrant life, sort of like yoga in a can:

A calorie is a calorie.  What our drinks offer is hydration.  That’s essential to the human body.  We offer great taste and benefits whether it’s an uplift or carbohydrates or energy.  We don’t believe in empty calories.  We believe in hydration.

I feel a little guilty that my first word wasn’t Coke but Pepsi.  Little did I know that as a toddler I was receiving nutrition, hydration and an energy source from the caramel-colored sugar water.  Hooray for my precocious mind for knowing that my choice of Pepsi-Cola over water, juice or milk was the right one.

Of course I speak in jest.  Katie Bayne is the modern equivalent of a P.T. Barnum.  Barnum, like Bayne, was the quintessential American huckster.  The huckster believes that most Americans fit into one of two categories: (1) fool or (2) damn fool.  So when it comes to our weight battles, Americans love to believe the hype: that over-expensive sugar water is a suitable replacement for zero calorie H2O, or that a sugary pick-me-up in the afternoon is as good as a short walk or quick nap to reenergize.  Katie Bayne can make her ridiculous claims because it’s what most Americans want to hear.  We want to believe that we don’t overdue it, that our portions aren’t so big, that American freedom is really just freedom of consumer choice as measured by the refrain, “I want my 64 ounce soda and I want it now!”

There is an election going on this year in America.  It’s not the one between Romney and Obama.  It’s between the truth and the hype, the facts and the propaganda.  As long as American media continue to give serious reporting space to paid propagandists like Bayne, I’ll know who’s winning and the rest of us will wobble merrily along sipping our Big Gulps.


Check out this review of Burger King’s new bacon sundae.  It’s just the thing to eat with that Coca-Cola.  Note this patriotic tone, as if grease and sugar together equal good citizenship:

There is something about the fusion of fatty meats and sugar-enriched ice cream that makes me feel so … American. Halfway through the sundae I was expecting a bald eagle to swoop in, carrying sparklers.

While Burger King claims that they are only offering this dessert for a limited time, part of me believes that the insatiable appetite of our country will have this item become a menu staple faster than you can say “God Bless America.”


12 thoughts on “Why Americans Stay Fat

  1. When I used to live in America, I thought it was “normal” to have Pepsi or Coke (sweetened drink) during each meal. I also thought my weight was not a problem until I came back to Japan and I realized everyone is 2 or 3 sizes smaller than I am. Like you said, having a habit of drinking and eating sweet things from an early phase is a hard one to break. Even though I am Japanese and have been living here for eight years now, I would rather drink Coke during dinner than tea or water. That’s because my taste buds are already adapted to all those delicious (yet fattening) food and drinks that I been consuming. It will be difficult to solve this problem, but sooner or later everyone needs to understand the consequences and the symptoms that these habits can generate.

  2. Today, around the world, the problem of obesity is getting more attention. Most countries, I think, try to make their traditional hand-made food to solve this problem. I think it is interesting that in US a food problem is associated with a problem about their freedom to eat whatever they want. I think Japanese people would choose their health and their food culture rather than their freedom of eating whatever they want. This seems because of their passiveness and also because they have a society that makes decisions about what is right or wrong. On the other hand, US people care about what they would like to do and dislike to lose their freedom. I think this problem is so difficult to solve because this connects with the main way of thinking in the US.

  3. Whenever I came back to Japan every summer, I was surprised at the tiny food and drink sizes. Although I was one of the smaller ones in elementary school, I had to order two drinks to satisfy myself since I was used to the American size, which is about the double of it. However, as I adapted to life in Japan, I got used to the size which once was “tiny” to me. On the other hand, when I go back to America I realize how “big” everything was over there. I believe size varies by culture and that depending on the perspective it can be stated differently. Therefore, I do not think that how big or how sweet Coca-Cola is is parallel to obesity. Obesity can be a DNA problem at times and can be controlled by the nutrition taken from other food.

  4. But what if your health suffered so much from bad lifestyle habits that you are in and out of the hospital? Don’t you think negative lifestyles cost all of us Americans a lot in lost productivity? Of course I believe in free choice, but I don’t want to listen to that Coca-Cola propagandist go on about hydration from a can of Coca-Cola. It’s absurd to think that eating fast food on a regular basis is a healthy alternative but that seems to be what she is suggesting. Many who overeat or make poor eating choices–which I do at times–are not going to moderate their intake. We are a nation of excess and extreme. We don’t like to put many boundaries on ourselves, but if I’m paying for other people’s bad lifestyle choices, then I want higher taxes on junk food, just like we do with cigarettes.

  5. I don’t think that the government should have to enforce such regulations on the the industries. As a country of free choice, Americans should be able to choose what size drink they want to get. If they want to drink 64 ounces but the stores are only offering 16 ounces, people are probably just going to buy 4 16 ounce bottles anyway. I understand that people in offices are trying to get the people to make better choices but forcing them is not the path to take. If the government is so concerned about the health of its people, it should start with educating the masses of the dangers that fast food can bring and the importance of exercise. It can educate the masses through schools and health classes and they can make public conferences of health studies for the public to hear about and to gain knowledge. If after being educated about the dangers that fast food can bring to health, these people still want to continue in their unhealthy ways they should be able to.

    I myself am one of those Americans who loves to eat Big Mac meals and I would definitely want to eat that bacon sundae with a large Pepsi but that’s the choice I make. If I gain weight and become unhealthy, that’s my fault but that’s my freedom of choice and I wouldn’t want someone taking that away from me.

    I don’t feel sorry for the obese people of America (except for the ones that are obese due to genetics) because they’re doing it to themselves and they know it.

  6. I do not think limiting the size of soft drinks will work as the way to decrease obese people. Even if big bottles are not available, that will be the same if people buy several smaller bottles. The core problem is that people are too unaware of the risk of being fat. I think people who care about their health can keep a balance of the amount of intake of calories even if they drink coke. Thus, what American people really need is not limiting the size of the bottles but awareness of keeping themselves healthy.

  7. I do not think limiting the size a person can buy is going to stop them from drinking coke if they already had a habit of drinking them since they were little. They may not be able to buy large quantities in one store, but they could always go to another store and buy more. Also, sugary beverages may be one of the factors to America’s obesity. It is not the only factor. I do not think it is bad to have a coke as long as it is not the main source of hydration and make sure you keep a healthy diet. I am certain that people know what kind of food is good for them and what is unhealthy, but it is hard to change their eating habits and I can understand how someone may want to eat pizza over a salad. In order to reduce sugar intake, it may be important to cut back on sugary beverages, but I think it is even more essential to find a way to get people eating a healthy diet. It may be easy to buy a bottle of water instead of coke in a store, but it may be hard to have people take time to cook food in their house when they can easily go to McDonald’s and get a hamburger for dinner.

  8. Obesity has long been a serious problem in the U.S., and American citizens have been aware of that, though only few try to get out of their bad eating habits. But I believe people can eat what they want to eat, because some are aware of the illnesses the bad eating habits will cause. And in fact, many Americans now are much more aware of their health and eating than they used to be. Most of my friends in America are or have gone on a diet and they look nothing like they used to. They are aware of their health and eating very healthy, exercising often.
    So, I believe there is no need to restrict sugary and fatty foods.

  9. The obesity rate is always one of the serious problems in America. In order to reduce the rates of obesity in America, there are a lot of different kinds of food which have fewer calories such as diet drinks being sold in stores. Moreover, many other practices of decreasing the rate have been done like exercising programs, changing eating habits, and stop selling sodas at school. Although obesity mostly comes from eating habits from childhood and it is very difficult to change those conditions, there will be a lot of positive effects if the practices of reducing obesity rate are successful.

  10. I have never been to America, so I do not know exactly how big the Coca-Cola sizes are compared to Japan’s. All I can say is that it is probably huge and the size in England (where I was raised) is in between that of the US and Japan. But I believe we cannot really say which is good or bad, because the difference in size equals the difference in culture. The sizes are made suitable for the citizens. But sometimes I feel sorry for foreigners as I think that maybe they expected bigger sizes when they order a small size coke.

    Coke is probably the symbol of America, but I think that obesity is just a problem of common sense. Children could drink as much coke as they want, but in the end, it is the parent’s fault to not restrict the amount their children drink, which results in diabetes and obesity, and then they find that it is too late to act. Also, (this is very stereotypical) but eating junk foods is fine, but because people just stay on the sofa without exercising, Americans end up being fat. We can say that this is not only a problem for the Americans, because I have seen many documentaries in England and around the world about taking in too much sugar and ending up in serious conditions. I do agree that we all need sugary substances once in a while, but it is important to be aware of the amount we take in.

  11. In our first class, many of my classmates pictured cokes and hamburgers as the images of America. Reading this article, I think that the images are correct and Americans really love those fast foods. Those foods are one of the important features of American culture, I believe. However, I cannot feel sympathy for many Americans who oppose Mr. Bloomberg because I was born in Japan and my parents didn’t give me carbonated drinks and cup noodles in my childhood. It enables me not to eat these foods. The difference must come from the cultural difference and also from poverty. In fact, fast food is less expensive than organic foods so that people who cannot afford these meals may eat those cheap foods. Coke is a wonderful drink of America but at the same time it is a vicious cycle of poverty and health in America.

  12. When I lived in the states, the size of a meal at McDonald’s was normal. I would often get a Big Mac set, or the 9 piece chicken McNuggets set. I especially loved the refills to my extra large drink. The sizes and proportions were normal – filling, but never too much. In Japan it’s the opposite; the proportions are TINY and there are rarely any restaurants and fast food places that have refills. Even the size of sodas and energy drinks are different. You see this in people too. Japanese people are generally smaller compared to Americans. When you’re used to big proportions, like how I was when I lived in the states, I feel like your stomach adapts to it and you naturally eat more. No matter how much people try to drink drinks that have zero calories or are sugar free, as long as they consume large amounts, it’s hard to lose weight.

    But I read somewhere that since there’s a diet and health boom going around in the US right now, the average weight of Americans is declining each year. I’ve noticed that a lot of my friends are in to working out and eating organic foods too. But still, with all the sugar, junk food and oily stuff, it’s difficult to stay away from temptation.

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