Thursday, June 16, 2016

To consume less is not American!

In a commentary that was published back in 2007, I wrote about a strange way of life here in the US, which I referred to as "an American solution to an American problem."  I wrote then:
Well, a few weeks after I came to this country for graduate studies, it was nearing Thanksgiving and the television ad for Alka-Seltzer that I watched then is what I refer to as American solutions to American problems. In this ad, the audio commentary and the pictures presented all the wonderful foods that the viewer would end up eating at Thanksgiving, which then resulted in stomach aches and heartburn. And, presto, Alka-Seltzer to the rescue! My reflexive thought was simple: if the problems came from overeating, then why not simply advise the viewer to eat less? Of course, as I have come to realize, to consume less is not American. (Yes, I, too, am an American!) Instead, the American way is to consume more, and then when problems develop savvy entrepreneurs provide solutions to facilitate further consumption.
I never imagined savvy entrepreneurs devising something that is bizarre, and maybe my visceral reaction is also why I even subconsciously filtered out the news.  But then the friend made sure I read about it :(
A new weight loss device offers a novel approach to cutting calories: draining them from the stomach before they are fully digested.
The AspireAssist system consists of a thin tube implanted in the stomach, connecting to an outside port on the skin of the belly. About 20 minutes after finishing a meal, users connect the port to an external device, which drains some of the recently consumed food into the toilet.
The manufacturer — Aspire Bariatrics based in King of Prussia, Pa. — says its system removes about 30 percent of food stored in the stomach before it ­begins causing weight gain.
People eat and then 20 minutes later they drain the recently consumed food into the toilet.  What the heck?  Weren't we worried about people who engaged in such behaviors?
It undoubtedly sounds gross, and even a bit like assisted bulimia, but this device may be a long-term solution for patients struggling with obesity, characterized as having a body mass index between 35 and 50. “With this device, you only remove about a third of the food, and that’s because the device sits primarily in the upper portion of the stomach,” Kathy Crothall, the CEO and founder of Aspire Bariatrics, told Quartz.
It certainly sounds gross :(

Who ever thought that this gross device will be the way to fight the obesity epidemic in the US!
 The two reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that efforts to encourage Americans to lose weight — at least to stop putting on more weight — are having little effect.
Overall, 38 percent of U.S. adults are obese and 17 percent of teenagers are, the two reports find.
 A couple of weeks ago, a student was chatting with me about life, and talked about his weight issues--he was slightly overweight.  He talked about his plans to lose weight, and to win the competition against his mother who had already shed quite a few pounds.  I love my work especially in contexts like this where I get more evidence that teaching is not merely about what goes on in the classroom.  The fact that he was at ease with me to talk about such issues says a lot.

I encouraged him in his summer plans.  I reminded him about the three things that I usually tell anybody who talks with me about weight issues:
It is about calories in versus calories out.
It is about what kind of calories that go in.
It is about when those calories go in.
Seriously, draining the calories from one's stomach?


Mike Hoth said...

We do certainly live in an awful world of wealth. The youth book series "The Hunger Games" made the American way into a monstrous sort of thing where the wealthy surrounded themselves with goods and the poor suffered. At a banquet, the main characters are told to drink a strange beverage, because it will make them vomit so they can go back to eating. I scoffed, because it was clearly exaggeration. People aren't that bad, I said!

I've given up optimism when it comes to American culture.

Ramesh said...

Yuk. I've never heard of anything so gross.

Anne in Salem said...

Vomiting to make room for more food consumption has been around for millennia - the Romans used vomitoria explicitly for this purpose. This mechanization is less harmful than bulimia, which is significantly harmful physiologically. I hope there is extensive counseling for prospective patients. I don't see that this method of weight loss would address hunger, so food intake will not decrease. Treating symptoms, not causes. And beyond gross.

A reduction in American consumerism, whether culinary or material, would solve so many problems in the US but would be disastrous to the economy. The economy is based on consume, consume, consume even though save, invest, delay are better for people. Reduced spending will reduce business income, reduce tax revenues, sink the economic reports and crash the stock market. Lose, lose.

Sriram Khé said...

Ramesh couldn't "stomach" this post ;)

In real life, you will be amazed at how much people's behaviors can easily exceed our imaginations, Mike. It is a crazy world ...

Your comment on the disastrous economic impacts from reduced consumption invite me to a serious debate, Anne. You wrote:
"The economy is based on consume, consume, consume even though save, invest, delay are better for people. Reduced spending will reduce business income, reduce tax revenues, sink the economic reports and crash the stock market. Lose, lose."
This is a classic demonstration of why the GDP is not to be used as a measure of anything and everything in a country. An increase in the GDP via increase in obesity and consumption is better than a stagnant GDP where people are healthier? It is like telling people that they should please take up consuming tobacco in huge amounts because it will add to economic growth? Why this maniacal GDP worship?

Anne in Salem said...

Perhaps the GDP worship results from limited economic intelligence, sound-bite information consumption, and inability to think more than three seconds into the future. There is ample evidence Americans are incapable of delaying gratification and of planning - obesity, credit card debt, foreclosures, etc. Perhaps if people read more than a headline and learned to say no to themselves, the country would be in better shape, physically and economically.

Sriram Khé said...

Better health by itself is a a wonderful thing. On top of that, think about it this way: the money we don't spend on the "bad" stuff--like tobacco or foods or whatever--can then be spent on whatever else. It could be green energy, or the expedition to Mars, or whatever ... my point is that even if the focus is only on GDP growth, the reduced consumption could also lead us to growth--a better kind of growth.
This recent book-review essay--in the WSJ, which you pro-market people trust--is about the GDP hassle ... if it interests you: