WASHINGTON DAYS: Bigger is better in the land where fat is a felonious issue

Spare a thought for Arthur Younkin, jailed this month for being too fat. Mr Younkin, a convicted cheque-forger, had been ordered by a court in Wichita, Kansas, to pay $11,000 (nearly pounds 7,000) in restitution, but said his 36-stone weight made it impossible for him to find a job and earn the money. Fine, said the judge, Mr Younkin could go on probation - on condition he lost weight.

Alas, he was sighted once too often around town indulging in doughnuts, pizza and french fries. He was weighed in the scales of justice and found wanting. Instead of slimming down, he had added 20lb. The law would have no mercy, and this time Mr Younkin was given Kansas' maximum term for violating a probation agreement, three months in jail.

His lawyers are appealing, on the grounds that weight and diet are personal matters which are not for a court to decide, and that therefore Mr Younkin's spell behind bars is "cruel and unusual punishment" in breach of the eighth amendment of the Constitution. More to the point, though, if obesity were a prison offence, America's overcrowded jails would long since have come apart at the seams.

For once the evidence of my own eyes and government statistics agree. Americans are getting fatter and fatter.A third of adults are overweight, and according to a new federal survey, 11 per cent of all children are too - more than double the proportion 25 years ago. Taking their cue from their parents, children too exercise less, spend more time in front of the TV or computers and eat too much. And who is to blame them? The hardest thing to find in this country is a modest snack.

Take the American "sandwich", not to be confused with the dainty European concoction of the same name. A sandwich here is a monument to America's love for bigness - so thick you cannot get your month around it without sending part of the contents into your lap. Beg the man behind the deli bar to go easy on the filling and he looks at you as if you were some wimpish idiot. But sandwiches have nothing on the fast food industry, which spends $36bn (pounds 22.8bn) a year on advertising ever vaster servings to an ever more corpulent population.

An item in the Washington Post last week provided some astonishing facts. Remember the curvy old bottle of Coca-Cola? It contained six and a half fluid ounces. The latest monstrosity from the 7-11 grocery chain is the Double Gulp, offering nearly 10 times as much, 64 ounces of coke, equivalent to 800 calories. The diameter of regular pizzas creeps steadily higher, now at around 12 inches. But nothing quite matches the 3lb porterhouse steaks offered by Morton's Steakhouse of Chicago. The Morton's in Washington claims to sell five to 10 a night, and everything gets eaten.

The reason for the onward march of excess is said to be the concept of "value". But instead of offering more for the same price, why not the same for less?

And the problem reaches the summit of the state. True, George Bush famously loathed broccoli, but even so was as thin as a rake. Not so the 42nd President. "We do fibres and stuff," Hillary Clinton once said in reply to a question about the family eating habits, and for formal entertaining she has replaced high calorie classical French with trendy Californian. But husband Bill, as he is the first to admit, seldom fails to warm to a pile of junk food.

So what happened to the get fit and slim craze? It was always strictly a middle- and upper-class phenomenon. Once upon a time when only the wealthy could afford a full plate, being fat meant being rich. The poor as a rule were thin. In today's US, it is the other way round. And even the stigma of obesity is fading. One poll has found that only 36 per cent of people feel that fat is unattractive. A decade ago, the figure was 55 per cent.

None of which answers Mr Younkin's problem: how to earn the money to pay off his debt. Apparently a New Jersey freak show offered him a job - but on condition he gained 200lb and signed a five-year contract. Even Mr Younkin's weakness for doughnuts didn't stretch to that.


John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)

Newcastle winger is in Argentina having chemotherapy

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
We are phenomenally good at recognising faces; the study showed that humans have been selected to be unique and easily recognisable

Human faces unique 'because we don't recognise each other by smell'

Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show?
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise

Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Warehouse Developer / Analyst (SQL, SSIS, stored procedures)

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Year 6 Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + D.O.E - Competitive Rates: Randstad Education Maidstone:...

March On Cancer™ - Local Marketing and Promotions Volunteer

This is an unpaid voluntary role.: Cancer Research UK: We need motivational vo...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week