I like the use of the word “setpoint” in your piece, James.
It is certainly true that the agrarian community that once was the US, that of the early twentieth century, needed FAR more calories than we do now to function. Not saying good or bad, just the way it was. I remember visiting my grandparents house when I was little and was simply astonished at the enormous amounts of food that were prepared for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They just always did it that way. Farmers today, I will argue, while not doing as much backbreaking labor (tractors, manure spreaders, etc.) still need a lot more caloric intake than office workers or folks that are teachers, for instance. So do professional athletes. Even those working in cities in factories fifty years ago did things daily that we can barely comprehend as far as the amount of physical labor goes.
Today is a different story and so is our food. We know things now that we didn’t back then - things like how much caloric and fat content specific foods have and we are able to taylor our diets accordingly. I accept that some people have a harder time losing weight than others due to their genetic material, but also will argue that common sense and a tiny bit of will power goes a long way in reducing the waistline.
Exercise is paramount for our more sedentary society to drop pounds as well. As far as Europe living “life in the fat lane” along with us here in the States, I believe that and I also believe that they would be slow to react/admit it. I think your other conclusion is somwewhat correct in that GDP relates to obesity. If you don’t have to work on a farm or in a sweatshop, why would you? But if you used to burning 4k calories a day and now burn essentially zero, you are sure to put on weight unless you compensate by exercising or eating differently.
Essentially what the author of the piece is arguing is a couple of things. Europe is close to as fat as the US and that possibly GDP relates to obesity. As you can see in my comment above, I think he is right on both counts.
I have one caveat though that I didn't mention above - there are a lot of poor people in industrialized economies who are obese. I think this is from eating too much prepared foods and a lack of education about food in general. So while the countries' GDP may be higher, and a poor person has a relatively smaller amount of money to spend on food than, say, a CEO of a major corporation, the poor person is still obese due to eating the wrong stuff. In other words, in certain cases, individuals that do not prosper even though the GDP rises may still be obese.
Most of us can barely imagine how hard people worked in the early parts of this century. A wonderful blog to read daily is Shorpy. It is a photoblog that features all old photos, mostly from the US. I have seen photos there of bean farms, potato farms and industrial factories. The amount of stoop labor and other types of labor that people used to have to do is mind boggling. But those people needed calories, and lots of them to get things done. Any standard run of the mill farmer back then burned literally thousands more calories than we need today. If you are an accountant or clerk, (nothing wrong with that) you simply don't need the amount of calories that a line worker or professional athlete does - that is just common sense.
I am always entertained when I visit my grandmother. She is used to preparing foods the way she always has and that will never change. Portions are large and fatty (bless her soul). She is always concerned when I don't take two HUGE portions of EVERYTHING and always pushes myself and my wife to "EAT...EAT!!!". I will not engage her in a stupid discourse about how we don't need as many calories today as we used to, just take some seconds and keep the peace. But it is a good example of the older mindset that men need calories and LOTS of them to keep moving about and working hard.
As my metabolism has slowed down since I have aged it is paramount for me to get regular exercise and to eat better and it is important that everybody do the same. A little will power and some basic education about our food is all anybody really needs.