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The Skinny on Fat

by M. Sara Rosenthal

Prominent bioethicist and prolific author M. Sara Rosenthal promises to distill the overwhelming abundance of diet information in The Skinny on Fat. Rosenthal wants to get to the bottom of “low-fat culture” and put readers on the path to health and well-being.

The book begins with a look at the rapidly expanding waistlines of North Americans. It should come as no surprise that, having taken more than our fair share of everything from energy to blue jeans, we are now the world’s most obese society. Rosenthal continues with a broad survey of eating disorders, disease-causing food agents, popular diets, weight-loss pharmaceuticals, and recommended nutritional guidelines, examining each topic in equally thorough chapters.

The Skinny on Fat offers plenty of statistical and anecdotal evidence on the causes of obesity, and the book’s advice is very sensible and readable, if slightly reminiscent of a high school textbook. Rosenthal’s style and tone vary from chapter to chapter – pleasantly informal in sections about obesity and eating disorders, more serious and scholarly when exploring food-related risk factors for cancer and heart disease.

Rosenthal rightfully points out that we are dupes of the big-money food industry, whom she holds largely responsible for the engorging of appetites, but she fails to address how willfully complicit we are. It is indeed true that meals are super-sized and processed food labels misleading. But even the most uninformed people understand that they’re supposed to choose the leafy greens instead of the ice cream. The health benefits of a balanced diet, the central premise of the text, isn’t a new idea. It’s an old idea that people have consistently found quite easy to ignore.

Rosenthal and a legion of similarly shrewd experts can dispense all of the rational information they want about the prevention of obesity, cancer, and heart disease. They can set out ideal weights, menus, and exercise
regimens, just as they have for years. But our fundamental dysfunctions with food won’t be resolved until we address the role of personal responsibility.