I read in the paper the other day that new homes make you fat. That's because of all the breakfast islands, home-theater popcorn makers, bedroom refrigerators, and wet bars builders are installing.

In fact, I know a guy who's gained 20 pounds since he bought his new home. When he walks into his house, a tractor beam pulls him to the kitchen, where he's plopped onto a conveyer belt. Robot arms reach into the cabinets and refrigerator, alternately shoving food in his mouth. First a whole block of cheese, then last night's pot roast, then a liter of Coke. He has no choice in the matter.

It's the same thing when he wants to watch TV. The second he feels the urge, his smart house carts him into the family room and puts on some insipid reality TV show. Then those robot arms show up again, forcing him to eat munchies--corn chips with onion dip, nachos, Starbucks ice-cream bars.

This guy's new house, in addition to killing him through gluttony, is pulling apart his family. That's because his teenage kids don't have bedrooms right next door to his. As a result, he's not as close to them as he could be. Never mind that he spends every waking, nonworking hour attending to their academic and athletic needs; he could be listening to their music through the walls as well, much as he was forced to do as a co-ed in college.

The home as enabler

This new-homes-make-you-fat argument has been bubbling up through academic channels for several years. It recently made its way into a Washington Post article that quoted, among other people, Robert Kushner, medical director of the Northwestern Memorial Hospital Wellness Institute in Chicago saying that new homes "architecturally enable" those who are battling weight problems.

I'm not sure what the solution is to this "problem." Should the industry return to building saltboxes with tiny kitchens? That would be deft marketing, considering the biggest reason people buy new homes over existing ones is to get a spacious kitchen. Or maybe builders should use contract language that "strongly" suggests buyers not overeat. (On second thought, don't do that.)

The Post article reminded me of a call I got several years ago from a newspaper reporter who was doing a story about an academic study that claimed new houses, by establishing separate wings for parents and children, were tearing families apart. Never mind that family rooms, eat-in kitchens, and home theaters may bring them together.

The blame game

The common thread here is that new homes increasingly get blamed for society's ills. They are the scapegoat for unchecked growth, poverty, overcrowding in schools, asthma, and now the country's inability to control its appetite. If we're going to outlaw juice bars, I guess we shouldn't allow people to supersize their hamburger meals.

As a practical matter, it would be very difficult to do any social engineering through new-home construction, even if it were the right thing to do. There are about 120 million housing units in this country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. We only add about 1 percent to that stock in any given year.

On a more important level, I think people should bear responsibility for their own actions rather than blame them on someone else or inanimate objects.

Boyce Thompson