Bruce Bartlett
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At the same time, societal pressures to stop smoking have been effective, causing many smokers to give it up. Unfortunately, as most ex-smokers can attest to, purging nicotine from their systems changed their metabolisms so as to increase their weight.

Mary Eberstadt of the Hoover Institution notes that as more women work outside the home, they have less time to supervise the activities of their children. Instead of being told to "go outside and play," as my mother always did, today's unsupervised children are more likely to be found in front of a television set or video game. Instead of being told to eat an apple when children want a snack, they are more likely now to eat candy bars and drink high-calorie soda. The result is less exercise, more calories and greater obesity among children, who often go on to become obese adults.

Finally, some government policies have been implicated as encouraging obesity. Douglas Besharov of the American Enterprise Institute notes that food stamps, school lunches and other aid programs for the poor encourage the consumption of high-fat, high-calories meals. Dan Griswold of the Cato Institute points out that restrictions on sugar imports encourage domestic food manufacturers to use high-fructose corn syrup, which may be more fattening than old fashioned sugar.

One of the curious consequences of these trends is that the poor are now more likely to be obese than the wealthy. Indeed, obesity is now a problem in developing countries where starvation was the norm not too many years ago, according to the World Health Organization. The poor live on low-cost but highly fattening carbohydrates, such as bread and pasta, while the rich can afford the Atkins Diet, which is based on eating costly meat, fish and other high-protein foods. The former are also more likely to engage in sedentary lifestyles, while the latter are busy burning calories at expensive gyms or on their own high-tech exercise equipment. And the rich can afford the time to eat slow food instead of fast food.

Throughout most of world history, obesity was a sign of wealth and thinness a sign of poverty. In the future, the opposite may be the case.

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Bruce Bartlett

Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.

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