Doctors can’t figure out why Americans keep getting fatter, but Harvard economists can. The obesity crisis is the first time the classic economic model has been proved wrong, because in this case, increases in convenience and efficiency haven’t benefited society. Fat people are starting to accuse big food firms of deliberately tempting them to indulge in unhealthy eating. Class action lawyers are expecting big lawsuits in the future against food manufacturers and call food “the new tobacco.”

According to David Cutler, Edward Glaeser and Jesse Shapiro, from the Institute of Economic Research, the problem has to do with the division of labor. In the mid-1960s, the average American woman stayed at home all day and spent at least two hours a day on the family meals. Since food had to be prepared from scratch, we had to wait for it to be ready before we could sit down and eat it. Now food manufacturers have produced frozen, processed foods and fast foods in response to women who work and families that can?t always sit down together for a meal. It?s easier to eat whenever we?re hungry, since someone else has done all the food preparation for us.

Doctors make us feel guilty for eating too much of the wrong things. But the economic model puts the blame on manufacturers. In ?Fat Land,? author Greg Critser explains how ?supersizing? makes people eat more. Food outlets couldn?t get people to buy two bags of French fries, but they could induce them to pay a little more for a single bag holding twice as much. And once it?s on our plate, most people can?t resist eating it all. Also, two major developments in the 1970s changed our diet for the worse. Corn surpluses led to the production of an inexpensive sweetener called high-fructose corn syrup, which soft drink companies use because it?s cheaper than sugar. According to Critser, because the body processes fructose differently from sucrose or dextrose, its overuse may skew ?the national metabolism toward fat storage.? Cheap imports of palm oil, which also keeps baked goods fresher longer, led convenience food-makers to substitute it for other shortenings. As for palm oil and palm kernel oil, ?Both are implicated in insulin resistance? and ?both tend to raise total and LDL, or ?bad,? cholesterol, thereby contributing to arteriosclerosis and coronary heart disease.?

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