NBC’s Brian Williams devotes lots of airtime during the evening news this week to a new medical report that asserts the percentage of obese Americans, presently 34%, will rise to 42% in 2030. My immediate response to the assertion is: Nah, no way. Of course, without any supporting arguments, I can’t even shoot from the hip on this one. But, sticking my gun around the corner of the building, I will fire blindly and flat-out state that the epidemic of pork has peaked.
Has to. Experts don’t take notice of a trend until it’s already long in the tooth. Then, just before it reverses, they forecast it to continue. This trend has been underway for almost thirty years. The parabolic rise has already occurred. Barely seven percent of the population in America was obese in 1985. The most commonly purchased dress size that year was eight. Size fourteen is the biggest(!) seller today, and there are whole departments in clothing stores for 1X, 2X and 3X sizes.
The stunning rise in the number of superfat people tracks the final runup in social mood, which began in the early eighties with the last, most outrageous leg of the Grand Supercycle bull market. Fatness in the population was noticeable, but still a novelty in the early nineties. Japanese tourists visiting Disney World at that time said they were more fascinated with the “balloon people” at the park than with the rides.
In 2003, McDonalds, sensing a marketing opportunity, introduced their Supersize campaign featuring 64 ounce cokes and portions of french fries big enough to feed four Marines coming in off of patrol. The campaign died a couple of years later and, while Sonic and some of the edgier fast food chains are still offering massive burgers to 18-24 year old guys with beastly appetites, the marketing thrust in much of the food business now is towards healthy eating and small plates.
The extraordinary amount of obesity in the culture parallels the mindless self-indulgence of the era. The awesome rise in social mood also gave rise to 20,000 sq. ft. houses, automobiles the size of tanks (Hummers seem to be on the wane around here, but I still see a lot of Chevrolet Subdivisions), and giant toys: At a filling station over the weekend, the dude next to me had a 36 foot sport fishing boat with three 300 horsepower engines hanging on the stern. “What are we talking for a fillup?” I said. “She holds 400 gallons,” he tells me. He’s going offshore to catch the most expensive tuna he’ll ever eat.
The resumption of a Grand Supercycle bear market–starting right about now, methinks–will demolish enthusiasm for expensive stocks, big cars and humongous houses. By the aforementioned year 2030, the siege of balloon people taking up too much space on the planet for their own good is likely to be a distant, fading memory.