Adam Drewnowski, director of the Nutrition Sciences Program at the University of Washington in Seattle,  says that an ongoing recession will lead to even more obesity.    Drewnowski has a PhD in Psychology but is also Professor of Epidemiology and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Medicine.  That's a broad range of expertise for any scientist, and I respect that, but in the nearly two years since Scientific Blogging and our cadre of my favorite science bloggers has been in existence we've had a lot of articles discussing the causes of obesity- and recession may not be the silliest, but it is top five.

We've had obesity blamed on an AD-36 virus, not just fast food but instead fast food marketing, a lack of sleep, the neighborhood you live in (that one was also Drewnowski) your mother's diet while you were in the womb, the fact that you don't get paid to lose weight and, well, I could go on but just do a search for causes of obesity and you'll find a hundred more.

Genetics is a common thread in a lot of the articles we post.   Obviously the search is on for a genetic root to virtually everything, that is the whole point of genetics, and most of these studies are not looking for a genetic magic bullet, they are looking for a genetic predisposition to eating disorders, including clinically obese people on one side and anorexics on the other, but an actual genetic link claim will remain suspect; with anorexia, for example, it will be difficult to find a gene that primarily affects middle class white girls in America.  And clinical obesity is not being a little heavy, it is a life-threatening condition.   If there is a genetic predisposition, it still takes an environmental trigger to activate it.

Drewnowski is not saying the recession literally causes you to gain weight, he is saying that with recession fears, people are more likely to eat cheaper food.

Why weren't we overrun with fat people in the Great Depression then?    We didn't have inflation then, like we are about to have with Congress basically printing a bunch of new money and throwing it at porkbarrel legislation in each of their 435 districts, we had deflation; a dollar actually bought you more stuff, people just had fewer dollars.  We also didn't the capitalist miracle of cheap, plentiful food that makes third world countries dizzy with envy.

Drewnowksi falls back on his 'neighborhood' correlation I mentioned above.    "In Seattle we have found that there are fivefold differences in obesity rates depending on the zip code -- the low-income zip codes have a much higher proportion of obese people," he said.

The notion that we would be helping people by making food too expensive for them to afford sounds suspiciously like rich New Yorkers who move to Connecticut and want to keep out Wal-Mart for local people; they're already rich so they don't want poor people to be able to buy things if it means an overpriced cozy downtown store would no longer be around.

Obviously not everyone agrees with Drewnowski.   "We associate poverty with obesity because energy dense foods are less expensive. More poverty does not have to translate into more obesity but it certainly could," said Dr. Robert Eckel, the former president of the Dallas-based American Heart Association.

So it's what you do with your money at issue.    We always see the extremes of poverty but that is not really the case of American poor people.   I don't have an X-box 360 but a lot of poor people do.   I'd much rather take my kids to Wendy's than most restaurants because it is $3 cheaper, just like poor people, but my kids are pretty active.    If your lifestyle is sedentary and you're poor and you acquire a taste for junk food, you will get obese.  But if your lifestyle is sedentary and you  are rich and acquire a taste for junk food, you will get obese also.   Obesity is pretty egalitarian if you eat too much.

We had a meeting here yesterday over some sandwiches and I found myself wanting chips; the last few meetings over sandwiches I had, we had chips.   Even with just a few instances, I had trained my body to want chips with a sandwich.  It was less enjoyable without them.   Obviously that sort of correlation is not science either, it's just an example.  And I ate some chips anyway.   But it's an easy trap to fall into.

Back to food and recession, Drewnowski says the Depression is actually a decent model for healthier eating; people ate ground beef, beans, milk, nuts, cheese, carrots, potatoes, canned tomatoes, soups, and rice.   And a whole lot of bread, but he seems to leave that out.   My dad won't eat bread slathered with lard and some salt and pepper today but he still has some nostalgia for it, mostly when he tells me how much easier we have it now.

We have a family dish called 'pot pie' which is really just some meat and broth with homemade noodles, like dumplings, and my great grandmother was out here visiting me a few years back and saw me make the dough, but I was adding an egg, and she said, "That's rich man's pot pie."

It wasn't a quality diet that kept people thin in the Depression, it was the lack of food.    While 100 percent of studies have proved that people who eat fewer calories than they burn will lose weight, I am not sure it is something we want to have forced on people.

"Obesity is a toxic result of a failing economic environment," Drewnowski told Reuters in a phone interview.   

No, obesity remains the toxic result of eating too much.    We need to keep that in mind lest we start to try and throw money and laws at the wrong problems