Physical fitness is highly correlated with urban living and political liberalism. If this surprises you, you’ve never been to rural America. That being said, it’s also kind of sad.
The politicization of obesity is one of the more distressing outcomes of the Obama era. I wouldn’t say I blame Michelle Obama and her anodyne “Let’s Move” campaign, but the violent reaction against it was depressingly predictable. In this era of political polarization, anything that politicians voice an opinion on quickly becomes a polarizing issue. And so you see conservatives who are so motivated by their dislike of Obama that they begin mocking exercise and proudly guzzling super-size sodas. On the other side, I think the Republican’s whole-hearted embrace of public religiosity is a driving cause of secularization in Blue America.
As ordinary lifestyle and personal health decisions become politicized, people’s behavior starts to seem literally pathological.
There’s no clear way to fix this. Ill-fated Presidential candidate Mitch Daniels proposed a “truce” on social issues, mainly revolving around an agreement to simply not talk about them. This could be helpful, but it’s a classic game theory problem. Some political entrepreneur would defect, seeing that her gain in becoming a base icon would outweigh sanctions from party leadership. Soon the whole agreement would collapse. And so politicians will keep hectoring, and people will keep reacting badly to it.
There’s an obvious research question here: does political polarization drive worse personal health outcomes? It may sound wacky, but it’s at least possible.