Cohen, an epidemiologist and medical doctor at the RAND Corporation, makes a convincing case that obesity involves far more than a failure of willpower. Were people really more disciplined 30 years ago, when only one in six U.S. adults was obese, instead of the one in three today? Unlikely, she says. “Physiologically, our capacity for self-control has not shrunk over the past several decades.” She blames both the way humans are wired to overeat when presented with the opportunity and the transformed food environment, which makes large portions of cheap, high-calorie foods too easily available. Little nibbles add up: The average individual weight gain of 22 pounds over the past 30 years in the U.S. can be explained by our eating just seven extra calories per day. Cohen proposes standardizing portion sizes and running counter-advertising against unhealthy food products. Her other ideas include following the model of state limits on the number of places that can sell alcohol: why not do the same with doughnut shops and ice cream parlors? And why not restrict all-you-can-eat buffets, and use warning labels, like those for cigarettes and alcohol? Though some ideas seem far-fetched, Cohen certainly presents a fresh, thought provoking take on how to fight the obesity epidemic.
— Karen Springen