February 16, 2017

A skeletal sketch from 1774. Credit: Wood: The Full Skeleton, Clavicle / The New York Public Library Digital Collection

Winter can be the hardest time of the year to stay in shape: The cold keeps us inside, warm and sedentary. But now that the holidays have passed, many Americans are looking to lose a few pounds in preparation for beach weather. 

It’s a perfect time to focus in on our country’s growing obesity problem -- what’s caused it and what we can do about it.

On this week’s show, we talk with two experts about the country’s high obesity rates. According to the CDC, about 36 percent of adults are obese, but Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian - Dean of the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy - says that may be more a consequence of what we eat than how much we exercise. Dr. Bruce Lee - Director of the Global Obesity Prevention Center at Johns Hopkins - believes the government should intervene with policies designed to change our eating habits.

Then, from McDonald’s to White Castle to Taco Bell, we’ll take a look at the many options for a quick, cheap bite, and try to understand our country’s fascination with fast food. Andrew Smith, a professor of food studies at the New School University in New York, tells us that fast food was created to fill a need for places to eat as more Americans began moving away from farms and into cities and suburbs.

Smith also says that newer fast food restaurants may be charting a different sort of path, offering healthier, more culturally diverse options.

Next up, Hector was a particularly enterprising teenager. In 1914, at the age of sixteen, he hopped from Ellis Island straight to the kitchens at the Plaza and the Ritz in New York. He moved west out to Cleveland and opened one of the first fancy Italian restaurants in Ohio. In the 1920s, he started selling prepackaged food, churning out more than 250,000 cans of food a day. Check out the segment below to learn more about Hector’s historic innovation.

Finally, our genes can tell us a lot about ourselves - like whether we have a propensity towards obesity. Carl Zimmer, a science writer and columnist for The New York Times, shares with us what he learned from studying his own genome.

carl zimmer, Dariush Mozaffarian, Bruce Lee, Body & Mind, Andrew Smith, Sci & Tech

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