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The answer!

SF author Pat Cadigan has finally figured out the cause of the obesity epidemic: it's a well-known fact that TV cameras add ten pounds to your weight, and with the emergence of the surveillance society we're all under the gaze of at least four CCTV cameras whenever we step outside our front door!

The solution to the obesity epidemic is left as an exercise to the student. (Hint: more privacy.)



The solution to the obesity epidemic is left as an exercise to the student. (Hint: more privacy.)

Don't let people know anything about your weight? With no data, we won't know if obesity is epidemic, pandemic or endemic or none of these.

I wonder if I can use this to stop my Mum from commenting on my weight. Privacy Mum! You're facilitating the surveillance state!

Am I right?


If you're really interested in the causes of the obesit epidemic, check this out.


See also Adenovirus Ad-36 and its interesting effect ...


Yes, but if you get rid of all the security cameras then you'll all be killed by terrorists. And the media won't have any footage of it after the fact.

Surely obesity is a price worth paying for the media's good.


Surely, the opposite will be the case.

As natural selection shows us, all the horizontally challenged people doing bad things will be caught (because they will be easily seen) and removed from the gene-pool, but all the really skinny folks who can hide behind lamp-posts out of sight of the panopticon will slip away into the night to reproduce even skinnier progeny to work their mischief :)


There's got to be a plot based on someone deliberately infecting celebrities with a souped-up bathtub sequencer version of that virus...


I've always been fascinated that societal assumptions are that the cause of obesity is a lack of discipline (I doubt this. I haven't a lick of discipline, but am not obese, just got lucky in the gene pool lottery) but the solution is rarely to give one more will.

Surely, though, Western governments will realize 1984 was distopian rather than utopian and stop using it as a primer, right?


There's a long and odd strain of prejudice against the fat in western culture, going back to the middle ages and beyond -- consider the deadly sin of gluttony, for example. Go back further, to the classical greeks, and they had an interesting view that external beauty implied virtue (the virtuous being rewarded by the gods with good looks).

The subliminal equation of fat with sin sets up a frame within which the overweight are berated for their evil ways. And this stops us from examining just why they're overweight. What precisely are they eating? What is their metabolism doing? An imbalance of just 0.1% between calories consumed and calories metabolized is enough to account for a weight gain of 10kg in a year, and most of us don't do that -- even the seriously overweight. So what's going on here?

The focus on food consumption is, I think, very much the wrong approach to obesity. And so is the idea of crash-dieting (triggering the famine response), and the idea that the fat are somehow evil, sinful, or disgusting. All of these attitudes stop us from approaching obesity as a pathophysiological condition and examining its causes analytically.


Americans are overly aware of just how coddled they are, and that probably feeds into it. Quick cheap food is available pretty much every 10 feet. Our towns and suburbs are laid out so that walking anywhere is unrealistic... so we drive. ETC...

Even if these things aren't unique to America, people here feel like they are.


Ben, what makes you think I'm interested in Americans? The whole world are not Americans -- in fact, natives of the USA are only 5% of the world population.

IT'S ALL ABOUT MEEE!!!! is not a terribly good way to join a conversation, don't you think?


I disgaree, sir! The answer is to add horizontal distortion to all CCTV lenses. If they choose a 25% reduction (this will reduce your +10 lb weight proportionally) then the advantage of *that* is CCTV operators can move away from that horrid 4:3 (or heaven forbid 16:9) screen shape and use the more asthetically pleasing and the horrendously repressed (by the mysterious Them), 1:1 monitors.

(see, the problem with the internet is people like me get to post :-)


I think you might have something there.

However, might it not be that WATCHING TV causes the obesity problem rather than BEING watched by the TV?

TV watchers are basically sedentary. Very little exercise other than what is required to get more munchies to eat while watching TV.


I love a good guilt free excuse for my obesity. I'm not fat because I'm a lazy slob who eats too many empty calories and doesn't exercise enough. I'm fat because I'm infected by a virus and oppressed by government surveillance.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.


Unfortunately for this very attractive theory, British people are more frequently recorded by surveillance cameras than Americans are, and yet Americans have a worse obesity problem than Brits.

I'm afraid I'm going to have to go back to the "calories" and "exercise" explanation. I agree, what a bore.


[ Neo-nazi racist birther drivel censored by moderator ]


We Brits have all the cameras, but it's more cost-effective to outsource the resulting obesity.

And since the USA is no more than a bunch of rebels...

Problem solved.


10. I bet they're more than 5% of the people tracking this blog though. And when Cadigan refers to "we", couldn't she be talking about her fellow Americans? (If anyone hasn't clicked through to her elegant post, I recommend it.)

17. If only. But I'm afraid Her Majesty has a long track record of piloting in the colonies what she is planning to introduce at home. (Rock and Roll, Hamburgers, teenagers, etc. etc. etc. Sometimes I wonder where she gets the ideas from.)


Patrick@15: You might be surprised. When I was in Seattle, I got seconds of amusement from pointing out all the cameras. It was quite scary. I suspect that Americans simply don't know just how many are pointing at them.



So you're saying we should get the surveillance people to walk around their control rooms more?


Charlie @10:
Sorry. I thought America was part of the west. And since I've never been to Scottland I figured I comment on the only thing I know anything about. I'll go back to lurking like a whipped dog now.


I thought that his response was kind of abrupt too (and I live in Edinburgh so its not a local culture thing). You carry on writing about what you know. I don't think that the object of the exercise is just to amuse our host. Personally I would blame portion size rather than availablitiy (in the USA) for some of it.


I thought a lot of the historical prejudice against the obese was resentment of the rich and well fed in a society where chronic malnutrition and periodic famine were the norm.


Please forgive but Everitt @12 put this in my head; "In Soviet Russia you don't watch TV, TV watches you."

Will @18; Cadigan moved to the UK more than a decade ago.

Feòrag @19; Or we know but don't care. Of course, some of the cameras outdoors in the US are either fake or broken, the ones inside or more likely to work. And we don't have the centralized surveillance you've got over there (I hope).


On the bright side, the infra-red surveillance cameras which monitor your forehead for evidence of suddenly changing blood flow, and the remote magnetoencephalographs for mind-reading, each add 10 points to your IQ.
[* puts on aluminum foil hat *]


charlie@8: "There's a long and odd strain of prejudice against the fat in western culture, going back to the middle ages and beyond"

But it does change during various periods. Rubens isn't exactly known for painting thin women, e.g

To your main point, if knowing what other people are doing induces obesity, then village people should in general be more obese than city people? :)


Feòrag @ 19, JamesPadraicR @ 24:

To add a few additional observations (from Seattle), regarding domestic U.S. surveillance camera operations in general:

(a) Yes, there are lots of them, a very large fraction of which were installed relatively recently.
(b) They are rather unevenly distributed, due largely to differences in philosophy and priorities from one local governmental/police jurisdiction to another.
(c) There is (typically) little to no coordination between individual small-scale surveillance systems (or networks) operated by private firms, those operated by individual local governments (city, county, state, local transit authority, port authority, tribal, etc.), and those operated by national government agencies.
(d) The fraction of these systems that is actually monitored in something approximating real-time is fairly small, and the percentage directly monitored by an agency that has both the legal authority and physical capability to respond directly to a monitored event is much smaller still.

Within one mid-size U.S. metropolitan area, there might be several hundred (if not several thousand) systems operated by private companies, mostly covering their own individual buildings/offices only. A similar number may contract the process out to private security firms, of which there might be a dozen or two active in the area. In addition to the major city of the area, there are probably at least a dozen (or several dozen) separately incorporated municipalities surrounding that central city, plus one to several county governments which directly administer areas not included within an incorporated municipality. Add the local offices of at least a dozen national government agencies (often up to several times this number), each focusing on its own local facilities and areas of nominal responsibility.

In general, the number of these individual local surveillance systems that are effectively coordinated with each other, much less operated under the guidance of any centralized authority, ranges from zero to negligible. The few exceptions tend to be areas of perceived very high risk for crime and/or terrorism, where a single local or national government agency already has both broad legal jurisdiction within a large area, and lots of money to spend. (E.g., New York City, Washington, D.C.)

So, in most U.S. contexts, camera surveillance systems are primarily after-the-fact tools used to record what happened at a specific (past) time, at a specific location, to the extent the event was within the camera's field of view.


Is there any way to adapt SCORPION STARE to only work on fat cells?


Wouldn't you end up like one of those poor hedgehogs baked in clay dishes?


Charlie @8 'An imbalance of just 0.1% between calories consumed and calories metabolized is enough to account for a weight gain of 10kg in a year'

I have a theory that medical folks are mistaking a wavy line for a straight one. By which I mean that each person has a number of stable weights (e.g 90kg and 130kg for me) around which they will remain unless they make a _large_ difference to their consumption.

Averaging it all out across thousands of people creates a straight line but that doesn't represent how an individual works. As far as I can see most people remain around the same weight all the time with only minor fluctuations. It takes an awful lot of effort to go from one stable point down to a lower one and the problem is that you'll never be certain where your own stable points are!



We can therefore conclude that the US has privatized the panopticon, making it just as efficient as all the other private and poorly-regulated industries.


Bruce # 31: Think of it as combining the classes of problems and inefficiencies common to the public sector, with those of the private sector, in a very lumpy and non-homogenized manner.


CS @3

Yeah. But you can't deny physiology. Even if you have a predilection to gaining weight, if you exercise enough, you won't get fat.

CS @8
You call it prejudice, but perhaps it was common sense.
Gluttony is wasteful, ultimately unhealthy and something that definitely needed to be discouraged in societies with uncertain food supplies.

On the other hand, Christians are notorious killjoys, and apparently there are people who like and enjoy overeating. Might have been that.

The focus on food consumption has yielded interesting insights. For example, in the U.S.(and elsewhere in the developed world), portion sizes have gone up a lot during the past 30-40 years.... because food is relatively cheaper now.

Japanese or Koreans, for example, have very low obesity/overweight rates despite being modern in other aspects. (25% in Japan vs 65% in US)...
Funnily enough, portion sizes in Japan are reportedly tiny.
But it's not just that, of course. They also walk more, and drive less..

Robin @30
Awful lot of effort? I went on a cycling trip some years back. Seven days, eight hundred kilometers later, I was 5 kg lighter, despite eating a lot the whole time...



Yeah, but the Village People do all that dancing, so that keeps them slim.


Schmidt @33, not everybody has the same physiology. I used to exercise an hour a day in water (which has more resistance than air) and never lost weight. I don't have medical clearance to exercise anymore, but the doctors require me to get at least 1000 calories a day and I'm not gaining weight, either. (Actually, they don't care about my weight, I have too many things wrong with me.)


Marilee @35

I saw some water-exercising group several times at the pool where I used to go swimming.. and I don't see how just that can make people lose weight.

On the other hand, you can't beat physics.
If you use your muscles enough, you cannot help expending energy... and if you control what you eat, weight loss has to occur*.
Pulling off both is tricky.. and that's why I'm happy that I'm a guy who feels just sort of hungry, in a "didn't realize it" way after a day of not eating.

*John Walker of Autodesk fame wrote a pretty straightforward book on dieting, from an engineer's perspective..


"Surely, though, Western governments will realize 1984 was distopian rather than utopian and stop using it as a primer, right?"

Reminds me of the saying, "There are two kinds of people who read 1984: those who are horrified by it and those who say 'Cool! So that's how you do it.' "


If you use your muscles enough, you cannot help expending energy... and if you control what you eat, weight loss has to occur.

No, actually. And I'm not the only one like this, who has to make sure they get a minimum of calories so their bodies will still work.



If one's health condition is as dire as yours, then no, that one can't lose weight. It's too late.(I think, it's too late for almost everything, these days.).

"No actually", means, it's not true for all people?
I know that starvation does not work, but apparently a prolonged energy intake deficit causes the human body to start using up fat reserves.


Right, not true for all people. It generally requires some major health problems, but the physics don't work for us.


Schmidt@36: Try it, it doesn't feel much harder than it looks, and then you wonder why all your muscles hurt the next day.

The whole "eat less food" thing is a gross over-simplification of the way human nutrition works. Here's a potted version: all animals regulate their intake of protein and carbohydrate, but they all use different triggers for feeding. The human version uses protein intake as our trigger for "I've had enough food". In our modern world, protein (especially high-quality protein) is expensive, but we still like it. Companies that make fast food use all the protein flavours (salt, that sugar+protein burnt taste that I always forget the name of) but they save money by leaving out the actual protein. So you have to eat a lot of those foods before your body decides it's full. Try to eat the "right" amount by calories taken in, and you'll feel hungry all day. Not fun.

If you live on cheap manufactured foods, you're far more likely to get fat. Well, not me, I've got some of those lucky genes. I'd probably have a heart attack instead. Fitness being and entirely separate issue from body mass index, especially for people like me.

Although I do own four cameras...



(I take my triumphs where I can ...)



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on July 29, 2009 10:49 AM.

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