I’m on a multi-week vacation in Spain, and I wanted to post my report on Málaga, the final stop.

Málaga is a high-end beach town/retirement destination. It works for folks that love the Spanish coast, but don’t want to deal with the over-the-top social scene of a place like Ibiza. A most memorable experience in Málaga is standing on one of the many vistas facing south. Across the tranquil water of the Mediterranean Sea, and then beyond the dusty horizon, you can make out the contours of another continent.

From Málaga’s vantage points, you need to take a taxi down switchback roads to get to the beach. The curvy roads and tight turns are designed this way to make the decline manageable for cars and trucks. Once you arrive at the beach, the shirtless (and even topless) population gives you an up close look at the physical condition of Europeans. Considering what I know about the United States, and what I’ve seen here, it’s high time to declare another international health emergency.

There is a photo making the rounds on fitness Twitter showing a U.S. beach scene from the mid-1970’s. Every single person in a photo of hundreds is thin and properly proportioned. The question is: what the hell happened?

If you look at the pillars of health, I can tell you what the problem is not.

It’s not a lack of sun: Europeans, despite weather and a lifestyle that mirrors Southern California, still have their battle against biology hanging over the top of their swim trunks.

It’s not a lack of sleep: Although folks weren’t staring at their phones in bed in the 1970s, artificial light and busted circadian rhythms have been as issue well before the obesity epidemic.
Thin beach

It’s not a lack of exercise: As a Gen Xer, I remember the rise of Nike and the running shoe, and the first televised aerobics shows. This was 1980; folks kept thin in the 70s without obsessing over exercise.

So what’s the deal?

The problem is trust, or more specifically, it is a lack of skepticism.

When my family arrived in Málaga a few days ago, we were faced with the same challenge as in other cities in Spain. Our best—only—option to fill the fridge was to begin at the Spanish equivalent of a 7-Eleven. Here’s my freakout: I grabbed a pack of sliced turkey from the refrigerated section, and flipped it over to check the ingredients. My Spanish sucks, but what is clearly called “turkey” on the front of the package is in fact—according to the label—65% turkey, and 35% something else (soybean filler as best I can tell).

So here’s why we look different from that 70s photo. People trust, without reading the ingredient list, that a package labeled turkey is in fact meat; they trust their doctor that all they need to do to fix their health is take a fistful of prescription pills; they trust the talking heads on TV to tell them what is safe and what they should fear.

I learned recently that the pharmaceutical industry by far purchases the most advertising, compared to all others. It’s really the only industry left turning a large enough profit to allow for huge advertising budgets. Drug companies (symbiotically with Big Agriculture) are paying media companies to tell everyone how to live, and people are literally swallowing it. The result is all around me on the beach in Málaga today.

As Arnold Schwarzenegger used to say, “I see a flabalanche!

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