Sunday, 24 February 2008

When we got fat

Interesting article for once in the SMH today:

TEENAGERS are doing more exercise than they used to, suggesting a lack of organised physical activity may not be to blame for rising obesity levels.

"1985 is where obesity increases started to occur,"

The reasons could include a decrease in incidental exercise - including walking and cycling to and from school, playing with or walking the dog or playing neighbourhood games with other children - coupled with an increase in the time spent watching television or playing video games.

A third factor was the rise in the availability of low-cost junk food, along with an increase in fast food advertising.

I found this interesting because I finished school in the mid 1980's, which I guess puts me in that generation which was skinny at school, but then piled on the pounds in early adulthood.

We didn't have fat bastards at school in my day. We had no fat teachers either - not a beer gut in sight, although most of them drank like fish.

The last line is interesting - I had never really thought about when we really started to eat a lot of fast food, but it must have been around 1985. I don't remember eating fast food of any kind (apart from fish and chips once every few weeks) whilst I was at school. None.

That was mainly due to the absolute paucity of fast food outlets anywhere. I still remember when McDonalds started in Perth - isn't it strange that one can remember a time that was pre-McDonalds - and I distinctly thinking "this will never catch on", because it was shit compared to Hungry Jacks.

Hungry Jacks was the dominant fast food chain at the time, but even it had probably only 10% of the number of stores that are around today. I can imagine managers doing some strategic planning back in 1985 and saying, "Why increase the density of our stores? No one will ever eat enough of our food to justify that many outlets."

Ha ha. I would have been one of the nay-sayers, which just goes to show how much I understand the average Australian. (I probably have a similar level of understanding as Hugh Mackay - which means very, very little).

There was the odd chicken shop, but they were mainly along the lines of Red Rooster, who do roasted chicken with roast spuds, rather than KFC with deep fried everything.

Most tellingly, soft drinks were sold in small cans or small bottles. Whatever happened to the 285ml can of Coke? Consigned to the dustbin of history, that's for sure. Even now, I still search out the old style glass bottles of Coke that contain just enough liquid to sate my thirst - and nothing more. They are rare as hens teeth.

I spent a bit of time working for Coke in the early 1990's - I guess around the time when obesity was really taking off. Coke will never release the numbers, but back then, management was hell bent on growing the Australian market to match the US market in terms of "serves" sold per head. A serve is a standard measure of volume that Coke uses, and I think it might be based on the old glass bottle - 230ml or something like that. When I was there, the yanks were drinking say 300 serves per person per year, and we were the second biggest guzzlers on the planet - but still a distant second to the US.

The whole company was dedicated to ensuring that we caught up with the yanks. The staff there were particularly fervent about it.

I guess they achieved their goals. Our waistlines are proof of that.

Funnily enough, the people that worked at Coke were the fittest that I have ever worked with before or since. Many of them took 2 hours for lunch so that they could run in the Domain for an hour, and they did that nearly every day. Most seemed to prefer to drink the free fruit juice or bottled water than the fizzy stuff that was on offer.

They must have felt like non-smokers working for BAT.

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