During the 1980s, a typical turkey sandwich had 320 calories. Now, it’s a whopping 820.
And it gets worse. Called a “heart bomb,” two slices of bread surrounding processed deli meat and cheese have a disproporionate amount of the sodium and saturated fat that we consume each day. If the bread is classic white rather than whole grain, it becomes sugar the minute it hits your tongue. High in preservatives and sodium, processed meat also has unhealthy ingredients. Even the salt in mustard is a problem. Meanwhile, the sandwich itself adds close to an extra 100 calories to what we could eat each day.
But more than food, those extra calories take us to obesity economics.
Our story starts with agriculture and the innovations that brought output up and prices down. Then, far from the farm, on the job, our physical activity declined as technology increased. Sitting more, we burn fewer calories. According to an NBER paper, it all adds up to how we are less active at home and at work while productivity has pulled food prices down. Correspondingly, rising from 2200kcal to 2900kcal, the available global supply of calories increased during the past century
From a long list of countries, I selected the United States, Sweden, and South Korea to show how Our World in Data suggests a correlation between available calories and obesity:
Our Bottom Line: Externalities
As economists we know that an activity can have a rippled impact–called an externality– far from its original source. With obesity, we see the health implications:
Also though, globally, the externalities vary. You can see that, close to 20 percent, the darkest shading takes us to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkmenistan, and Mexico:
Today, rather amazingly, in approximately 330 words, we have moved from a ham and cheese sandwich to obesity deaths in Turkmenistan.
My sources and more: This WSJ sandwich article was my first step on a path that took me to the obesity problem. Then, remaining with WSJ, this opinion column from a University of Chicago scholar has the economic perspective that led me to a paper he cites. As always, though, Our World in Data was a phenomenal source of information.