There is a very interesting article over at ProPublica, "Do These Chemicals Make Me Look Fat?", that you should take a look at. The main thesis is that the obesity epidemic seen in the world today may have a very important variable that is not being considered: chemicals in our environment.
You see, it's not just people who are growing fatter. Both domesticated animals and those who live in close proximity to humans are growing heftier too. So, it would seem that the two main causes typically identified -- junk food and lack of exercise -- don't necessarily apply to many of these critters.
What is it then that humans and these animals share in common? We each live in a world contaminated and polluted by an almost ubiquitous array of chemicals. We find this stuff in the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the gadgets we play with and in the air, water and soil. In our modern world, it is next too impossible to escape the reach of chemicals.
More than a decade ago, Paula Baille-Hamilton, a visiting fellow at Stirling University in Scotland who studies toxicology and human metabolism, started perusing scientific literature for chemicals that might promote obesity. She turned up so many papers containing evidence of chemical-induced obesity in animals (often, she says, passed off by study authors as a fluke in their work) that it took her three years to organize evidence for the aptly titled 2002 review paper: “Chemical Toxins: A Hypothesis to Explain the Global Obesity Epidemic.” “I found evidence of chemicals that affect every aspect of our metabolism,” Baille-Hamilton said. Carbamates, which are used in insecticides and fungicides, can suppress the level of physical activity in mice. Phthalates are used to give flexibility to plastics and are found in a wide array of scented products, from perfume to shampoo. In people, they alter metabolism and have been found in higher concentrations in heavier men and women.
No one is suggesting that chemicals are the sole villains here. I think there is no question that poor eating habits and a lack of physical activity play a role. But these make for easy targets because they focus on personal responsibility, while taking corporate responsibility out of the mix. They focus on individual shortcomings, while leaving the captains of industry free to pursue almighty profit at all costs.
Why are we so willing to focus on two vices -- sloth and gluttony -- while giving another vice -- greed -- a free pass?