“A strange-looking word, it comes from obese plus the ending -genic, something tending to generate or create. It refers to conditions that lead people to become excessively fat — a worrying trend in developed countries, especially among young people, who are eating too much of the wrong things and not taking enough exercise. The problem is variously put down to social causes (too many sedentary pursuits available; fear that the outdoors in cities is dangerous, leading to less cycling, walking and running about) or to the results of our consumer lifestyle (eating pre-prepared meals that contain excessive sugar and fats). The term seems to have appeared in the last decade (the first example I can find is from a British newspaper in 1996) and is not as yet mainstream, though it is increasingly turning up in newspapers and medical journals. Its opposite is not often called for, but if you need it, it’s leptogenic, leading to weight loss, from Greek leptos, thin, fine or delicate.”***
Politicians have found a new fun buzzword. It’s so new that it caused my spell checker to briefly seize up when I typed it out. Basically, as you can see above, it just refers to conditions that cause people to be portly.
Unfortunately the lifestyle of modern man has shifted quicker than the species evolutionary capacity to keep up.
(Before anybody freaks, yes I’m a Christian and I’m mentioning evolution. Species do evolve, its part of our survival mechanism. Explaining how my acknowledgement of this fact functions along with my faith is a whole other discussion I’m not getting into right now.)
Where was I? Oh yeah, from an evolutionary standpoint the lifestyle of the human animal has changed with almost blinding speed. Within the past five hundred years or so we’ve gone from having to hunt or make everything we eat to being able to buy it all and instead we expend our hunter / gatherer energy sitting at desks. All of the salty, fatty, sugary foods that were rare before have suddenly become the easiest prey. Our bodies just haven’t been able to keep up with the radical shift.
Oh sure, if we gave ourselves another thousand years or so I’m sure we’d become fat processing whiz machines, and maybe we will. But that doesn’t help those of us stuck with a metabolism that wants to cling to fat as a famine product right now, does it?
On top of that, we crave fat, salt and sugar for exactly the same reason – it’s supposed to be hard to come by so we gorge on it when it’s available. And right now it’s available all the danged time.
Solution? Er, yeah there’s the stick – I don’t really have one. Other than possibly moving into the Canadian wilds and hunting Moose.
***World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion
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