Capitalism’s Beverage & the Obesity Epidemic

The Los Angeles Times reports that Disneyland is retooling its boats-on-water rides because of the raging obesity epidemic in the United States, “to deal with the delicate problem of bottoming-out boats.

small world no more...

People are simply getting too fat for the existing rides, including the now satirically named “It’s a Small World”:

“Forty-one years after the whimsical ride debuted at the Anaheim park, Disneyland plans to shutter the attraction in January to give it a much-needed face-lift — and deal with the delicate problem of bottoming-out boats.

“Heavier-than-anticipated loads have been causing the boats to come to a standstill in two different spots, allowing for an extra-long gander at the Canadian Mounties and the Scandinavian geese, said Al Lutz, whose website MiceAge first reported the refurbishment plans.

“Disneyland is well aware of America’s expanding waistlines.

“In recent years, the park has redesigned many of its costumes and started stocking them in larger sizes to accommodate ever-expanding waistlines. Adult men and women are about 25 pounds heavier than they were in 1960, and 65% are considered overweight, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The average weight for men jumped from 166 pounds in 1960 to 191 pounds in 2002; women average 164 pounds instead of 140.

“Of course, this is a world of fantasy and the perfect place to forget about that diet for a few hours. So when somebody gets booted from the boat, Lutz said, Disneyland ride operators make sure the guests don’t leave disappointed: They hand them a food ticket.”

The primary cause of this epidemic (which is very closely and inversely correlated with individuals’ class position) is corporate capitalism.

As I explain in my book, as the system churns on, its normal operation compels all big businesses to extend and refine their marketing operations, which are neither more nor less than history’s most detailed and expensive behavioral-control campaigns.

As this generates an expanding marketing race, it increasingly commercializes and commodifies off-the-job life. Along the way, less capitalist-friendly practices and products give way to more capitalist ones.

One of corporate capitalism’s ultimate (and hence most important) products is soda pop: It preys upon human weaknesses for sugar and caffeine and sensory titillation. It is impossible to make at home or obtain for free. It is mildly addictive. It is highly packagable and marketable.

Along with the reign of the automobile (another of corporate capitalism’s core products), soda-pop is a chief cause of the horrifying obesity epidemic in the United States.

Soda pop has roughly 150 empty calories per 12-oz serving. In 1900, Americans drank the equivalent of 12 12-oz cans of soda per capita annually. In 1929, they drank 26 cans per person per year. 1949 = 158; 1957 = 200. In 2004? 535 cans of pop per person per year! Soda now far surpasses water as the #1 thing Americans drink. Between 1980 and 2005, its per capita ingestion in the United States increased every single year!

[An Aside: People in the mass media often puzzle over why French people are not as fat as Americans. Is it drinking wine? French mystique? A secret epidemic of French bulimia? Hell, no! It’s the cars and the soda pop, i.e. the unrestricted capitalism, stupid! The French have the Paris Metro and the TGVs and a forest of bikeable and walkable cities. And what was France’s 2004 per capita ingestion of soda pop? Just over 100 cans per person, about 1/5 of the U.S. rate. 400 cans of soda-pop, the number Americans drink over each year and above the French average, contain 60,000 calories. Q.E.D.]

As I like to say, the degree of control our ruling class has over us underlings would make Joseph Stalin purple with jealousy. We in America just simply live under market totalitarianism. Our habits are approaching complete commodification, with outcomes that deserve serious consideration by anybody wondering what kind of basis money makes for a purported civilization…

8 Replies to “Capitalism’s Beverage & the Obesity Epidemic”

  1. Hello Michael, I just read the translation of this post today in Rebelion.org and immediately after I were here joining your blog.
    I can’t resist to write you few words, on my bad English, to encourage you to continue “waking up consciences”
    It is very interesting the relationship between the soda-pop beverages and the obesity epidemic, a relationship that certainly the media will never talk about.
    But what I like more of your article is the last paragraph. It is a hopeful sign that there are some clever voices in the US that recognize the totalitarian essence of the capitalism and the myopia of the current purported civilization.
    It is a reality that the image of a country/nation is the result of his actions around the world, and unfortunately, the image of US around the world is really bad (no one could continue thinking that US is the Freedom maker.. just need to see the wars, the environment policy, etc.). Voices like yours help us to continue thinking that a there a lot of people in US against not only his current neo-liberal politics that they are playing around the world but also the totalitarianism that is behind that kind of civilisation that capitalism represents.
    There are not only you, the American people, who lives under the market totalitarianism we are practically the whole world.. That road is taking the planet to the collapse.. some of us are lucky to have been born on the “first world” and just because of that, we (first world) also have the responsibility to lead the understanding and to impel the changes to change the direction, to take the right road to the future.

    From Alcossebre, Spain
    Salut!
    Olivier Herrera

  2. Muchas gracias, Olivier! My Spanish is terrible, but thank you for your encouragement. I do indeed agree that we all face these problems, as capitalism has always been a world system. The USA is simply the headquarters of it, with a ruling elite that has enjoyed remarkably few restrictions on its power. Salut y solidaridad!

  3. Drink Tea! Well, Japanese drink lots of soft drinks, including their proud invention, canned coffee and ion drinks (similar to Gatorade). They used to sell canned beer on vending machines before the gov’t finally banned it. But they don’t seem to get fat. It’s not the tea. They walk a lot. They take subways and buses. They take trains to long distance destinations. And school kids all ride bikes to classes. Just one reason why driving a car is expensive in Japan: you have to pay minimum $1,000 to get a bi-annual warranty of fitness. I don’t even have to mention how expensive the annual auto tax is. The first one month living in Tokyo, I lost 20 lbs! Yeah, Japanese are also victims of marketing. They believe they invented canned coffee and are proud of it! But the gov’t seems a little bit more caring about people’s welfare. Gambatte, Amerika no gata!

  4. I forgot to add that in 2005 Japan ranked #5 in the world in soft drink use, after the US, China, India, and Brazil. It is obvious that the sheer size of population in rapidly developing countries is a main factor, while marketing is the reason for the US and Japanese beverage consumption. But if we focus on who actually drinks processed beverages in rich countries, it may be true to say that poverty is the common denominator for beverage consumption in both developing and developed countries. Marketers target comparatively poorer sector of society for beverage marketing. In every corner of poor countries in the world, Pepsi and Coca Cola provide incentives to restaurant owners, so that the only alternative to indigenous drinks (e.g., water, tea, coffee, home made natural juice) is the infamous word, “kola.” In Japan, poor people tend to drink processed tea, ion drinks, and soda pop, packaged in traditional Japanese brand designs. But they are mostly produced by Coca Cola or by the world’s largest beer brewer, Kirin.

  5. Hi Michael,

    Nice piece. I taught a community health class this past semester, and it forced me to think about how our bodies have been comodified. From the Drug industry and the medicalization (commification) of normal states as clinically (chargable) interventions, to how our bodies have become polluted like our environment as a result of practices that ignore the non monetized effects.

    But one of the things I have been thinking about is how even mainstream rejection of these capitalist invasions are starting to show in small ways. Take for example the whole anti corporate campaign within the public schools: opposing subsidizing coke and mcdonalds with public funds and creating healthy food for school lunches. Another small example is the move by many physicians to fight drug company payolla in journals, medical schools, and in their practices.

    If public school parents, teachers and physcians are mobilizing to oppose corporate domination, not just anti globalization activists on liberal college campuses, maybe the general climate is really changing in a more humane direction.

  6. Thanks for your news and analysis, Allan!

    I think you’re right about how mainstream many concerns and awarenesses really are, despite the lack of media coverage of them. It seems to me the status quo is a mile wide but only an inch deep — a touch inch, though!

    Chomsky’s _Failed States_ has a long and terrific chapter on the huge, persistent gulf between popular desires and “mainstream” politics and media.

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