What I'm Reading (Feb. 9)

Related articles

The obesity epidemic enters its second century
Rise and shine – very early edition
Segmented sleep?
Deaths of despair, loneliness, and community

Could we have been all wrong about the obesity epidemic?

“I think the entire premise of a mysterious obesity inflection point around 1980 is probably wrong. The whodunnit is a classic genre, and if you’re trying to create compelling content, it makes sense to twist your nutrition narrative into that shape. But the evidence suggests a much more boring story about a long-term increase in average weight punctuated by the Great Depression and World War II. And this in turn suggests that there probably isn’t some unitary big bad we can blame so much as a broad tendency for food to be cheaper, more widely available, and tastier, which is a situation with a lot of virtues but also some downsides. [emphasis added]

Could our growing waistlines be nothing more than living in abundance with few evolutionary rules? From Slow Boring, Americans have been gaining weight for as long as records exist


“They are people who wake up early—naturally. Not just “early” in the sense of a perky-at-8-a.m. spouse. These are the people whose bodies rouse them at 5:30 AM or earlier—some even at hours others are just going to sleep. And new research a decade in the making suggests that the extremely early risers among us might be more common than anyone expected.”

I am one of these “extreme larks.” I am generally an early riser and prefer to get my “work” out of the way in the morning so that I can loaf for the rest of the day. The time between 4 AM and 6 AM was special during my training. The nurses or the service wouldn’t call to wake you up then unless it was a real emergency; most other “emergencies” could wait until 6 AM. It was a quiet time to get my reading done or pursue some other obsession on my part. It is so good to find so many larks out there. From The Atlantic, The Life of a Person Who Wakes Up Really, Really Early


Like many Americans, especially of my age, a full night’s sleep is more aspirational than real. But then I read this.

“When sleep was divided into a two-act play, people were creative with how they spent the intermission. They didn’t have anxious conversations with imaginary doctors; they actually did something. During this dorveille, or “wake-sleep,” people got up to pee, hung out by the fire, had sex, or prayed. They reflected on their dreams and commingled with the spiritual realm, both the divine and the diabolical. …Today’s sleep writers often wield Ekirch’s research to suggest that segmented sleep (or, as Ekirch calls it, biphasic—two-phase—sleep) is old, and one-sleep is new….”

From Derek Thompson in The Atlantic, Can Medieval Sleeping Habits Fix America’s Insomnia?


I’ve written a bit lately on deaths of despair, and I was drawn to this article by David French. Like the authors he cites, he does not believe these deaths have just one primary cause, but he focuses on loneliness here.

“A sense of community isn’t unique to a church, synagogue, or mosque, but it is inherent in each of those institutions. And thus, it makes all the sense in the world that dwindling attendance at religious services—combined with declining marriage rates and number of friendships—mean that more Americans are isolated and alone.

Loneliness destroys lives, and it can damage nations.”

From The Atlantic, Can More Church Heal What Ails the Lonely Heart