Australia is racing to overtake the US as the fattest nation on Earth – and there the situation is extraordinary. Almost 70% of American adults are overweight or obese, costing. Australia's childhood obesity rate has tripled in the last decade.
Obese people face discrimination everywhere. In the US, overweight women complete fewer years at school, are less likely to be married, have lower incomes and higher rates of poverty than their thinner counterparts. One group of severely obese patients who lost weight after gastric surgery said they would rather be covered in acne, deaf, dyslexic, diabetic or suffering from serious heart disease than be obese again.
Obesity spread across the developed world with terrifying speed. Social historians source the problem to the late 1800's when attitudes to food started changing. In the 1800's, gluttony was a sin but obesity meant affluence.
Then full-figured beauty fell from favour. The word "diet" became associated with weight loss, and anorexia nervosa appeared. "Calorie" came to mean food energy and weight-watching boomed, as did weight itself. Eating disorders bit into female populations. By the end of the 20th century, in almost every developed nation, obesity was out of control.
In Australia, where kids spend more time watching TV than attending school, one in five children is overweight or obese. Australian infants of 20 months old are being treated for obesity, and some as young as seven have high blood pressure and early stage of diabetes.
But it is America that leads the way in becoming fat fast. It has also pioneered fast food culture - and those products are heavily marketed to children. In the US, the average TV-watching kid sees more than 30,000 commercials every year.
Back in the 1950's working Americans would not eat out as they couldn't afford to. Then McDonalds appeared – cheap, convenient and etiquette-free. The typical American now eats three hamburgers and four orders of French fries every week.
The sad fact is that obesity is difficult to cure. The principles sound simple – eat less, exercise more. But the practice is hard to follow.
The bigger picture is, yes, it's an epidemic; yes, it's all about intense social pressure. But every time you put food in your mouth you are making a choice about who you are and who you want to be. What should be the simplest of things, food, in our society, is one of the hardest..