Try an experiment next time you’re watching an old movie—say, one from the 40’s: Count the fat people. In Casablanca, for instance, you’ve got roly-poly Sydney Greenstreet. That’s it for corpulence. Bogart? Paul Henreid? Conrad Veidt? Straight up and down, like two-by-fours. Not even the short guys—Peter Lorre, Claude Rains—can be called overpastured. Ingrid Bergman? Likely a trim size six by today’s modes of measurement.
Where are the fat folks? They were, so to speak, around in the war and postwar years. They simply hadn’t yet become omnipresent—a phenomenon meriting the diligent attentions of the mayor of New York City.
As most Americans surely know by now, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, dismayed at the spread of obesity in his city, proposes banning the sale of sugary drinks, 16 ounces or larger, in restaurants, on street carts, and in city-owned stadiums. Forbidden to undermine their health, New Yorkers, the mayor reasons, will make more healthful purchases—fruit drinks, perhaps.
They may or may not. This is in any case where we came in. Why so many thin-to-ordinary-sized folks in the recent past, and why so few now? And what’s all this got to do with government and its alleged duty to put the nation on a diet?
The nonscientific explanation...