Besides providing lyrics to the Byrd’s song, To Everything There is a Season, the author of Ecclesiastes opened his essay by writing, “Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.  The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.  All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.”

            In the time that author was writing, it was certainly the case that nothing ever changed much.  The seasons came, the seasons went, and then they came back again.  The mountains, the buildings, the crops, the food, the wine, the animals: they were all the same.  Even the people changed little; they dressed the same, they did the same sort of things.  Wars came, wars went, the kings came and went.  The only changes one could see were in one’s children growing up and in oneself growing old. People died, people were born, but all remained the same.  One’s passage through life was like the passage through life of everyone who had come before, and apparently as everyone who would come after.  Nothing was ever different, or ever would be different. And you wouldn’t miss anything when you finally died.  Dull repetition was the order of the world.

            But the world has changed radically since the author of Ecclesiastes wrote.  Though what he said was certainly true in his time, and while it remained accurate throughout most of human history, something happened to humanity beginning in the late Middle Ages, that gained momentum with the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment.  A radical shift in how people thought brought about radical changes in how they lived, especially with the advent of the industrial revolution.

            Besides the obvious technological alterations and the enormous advancements in medicine and hygiene, other, more subtle alterations have appeared that perhaps we are not mindful of.  For instance, the advent of antibiotics in the 1940s meant that people no longer would have to die of minor or even major injuries.  Those things that inevitably killed because of infection no longer did.  One of the most significant alterations in this was the improvement in the infant mortality rates, as well as a drop in the number of women dying from childbirth.

            Throughout human history, famine, malnutrition, and starvation have been very common.  Between 1845 and 1849, for instance, approximately five hundred thousand to a million people died in Ireland during the Great Potato Famine.  France suffered from famine as late as the 1800s.  

But today, according to recent news reports, things have changed so much that the biggest health crisis facing Americans, Europeans, and the rest of the world is now obesity. 

One of the oddities of this modern problem is that it strikes the poor more frequently than the rich.  The World Health Organization says more than 1 billion adults around the world are overweight and 300 million of them are obese, putting them at much higher risk of diseases such as diabetes, heart problems, high blood pressure, stroke and some forms of cancer.

There are now more overweight people in the world than people who are undernourished, who number about 600 million.

Certainly, obesity is not a good thing and there are serious health consequences to being severely overweight.  But frankly, obesity is a far better problem to have, I think, than starvation and famine.  So besides space ships to Mars, Saturn, and Pluto, besides open heart surgery, MRIs and computers that fit in our pockets and give us TV on demand, while allowing us to communicate instantaneously with any other human being on the planet, while being told where we are standing within three feet of our location—and thus being told how far we are from the nearest Starbucks—besides all that, the human race is now in need of a good diet.  Now that really is something new under the sun.


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