Fat Land

Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World By Greg Critser | Houghton Mifflin. $24.

Fat Land is a slick, state-of-the-nation alert, a media-savvy polemic aimed at what journalist Greg Critser believes to be the source of much of this country’s obesity problem — permissiveness. As a nation, 65 percent of us are overweight, with 1 in 5 considered medically obese. We exercise frightfully little, gobble an ever-wider array of junk food, and, worst of all, we are passing this behavior on to our children — who face increasing fast food consumption and decreasing physical activity right on school property.

Though he sometimes gets bogged down in scientiÞc minutiae, Critser cleanly skewers several root causes of obesity, including the American love affair with “supersizing” — a whopping 25 percent of our fast food purchases are now jumbo-size — and the shortsighted policies of Earl Butz, Nixon’s secretary of agriculture, which infused our food supply with palm oil and high-fructose corn syrup.

Critser is at his most lucid describing how even mild interventions can have significant impacts on our obesity. “How we get out of hell,” he concludes in this folksy call to arms, “depends not upon prayer, but rather upon a new sense of collective will — and individual willpower.”