That the population in general is getting fatter is true. The western world is rapidly becoming one of fatty lardbuckets as far as the eye can see with distressing aesthetic results. However, it's very important indeed to understand that this is not because we are all eating more:
If you want to see how inflated our portion sizes have become, don’t go to the supermarket – head to an antique shop. You spot a tiny goblet clearly designed for a doll, only to be told it is a “wine glass”. What look like side plates turn out to be dinner plates. The real side plates resemble saucers.
Back in a modern kitchen, you suddenly notice how vast everything is – 28cm has become a normal diameter for a dinner plate, which in the 1950s would have been 25cm. Just because we are eating off these great expanses of china does not of course mean that we have to serve ourselves bigger portions. But as it happens, we usually do.
Well, no. This simply is not true. we are not eating more than our forefathers, not at all. As Chris Snowdon over at the IEA has been pointing out so admirably, it's not even remotely true.
The ration for a British soldier in WWI was some 4,300 calories a day. OK, that's living in a hole in a field where one might expect a certain effort necessary to both keep warm and dodge bombs. In WWII those running the civilian rationing system noted that when people consumed less than about 2,900 calories a day they lost weight. We might also assume some effort being put in to dodge bombs.
Today's average UK consumption is some 2,300 calories a day. We're simply not eating more food. And given that we're not eating more food then all attempts to understand why we're all blowing out like Mr. Creosote which start with the assumption that we are eating more are doomed to failure.
The truth is that we are expending less energy these days than our forebears, not that we are eating more than they did. We ourselves think that it's central heating which is the cause here but that is as yet unproven while there are indications that it could be true. After all, the major mammalian use of food energy is in regulating body temperature. Seems logical enough to us.
But it really is important to start such debates from the correct set of facts. That vast numbers of us are wreathed in gobbets of fat is true. But that the population in general is eating more is not, that second thing is not even remotely true. Thus everyone eating more cannot be the cause of that aesthetic pain we feel when surveying the crowds on the High Street, can it?