Are We Losing the Fight Against Obesity?

August 13th, 2010 at 10:54 am | 46 Comments |

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Last week, news of rising obesity rates made big headlines. “Obesity Rates Keep Rising, Troubling Health Officials,” declared The New York Times.

According to the widely reported study, 27 percent of American adults in the U.S. are obese. The findings are drawn from a telephone survey of 400,000 adults who answered questions about their own height and weight.

Telephone surveys are far from perfect, and it should be noted that the result is different from another CDC-backed survey – the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). In that survey, which combines both interviews and physical exams, 34 percent of U.S. adults are found to be obese.

Obesity is a major problem. Whether or not it’s a growing problem is debatable (NHANES data suggests we may have hit a plateau) but with roughly 3 in 10 adults tipping the scales, so to speak, obesity is something that must be addressed. First Lady Michelle Obama, as I’ve noted before, has done much good work in this area. Shortly before the survey results were released, she put the pen to paper again.

One of the hot topics at the city level is how to address food deserts. Inner-city America is rich in crime, poverty, and fast food. The dearth of vegetables and fresh fruits – what experts term the food desert – partly explains rising rates of obesity, particularly among minority communities. Three million Chicago residents and half of Detroit’s population reside in food deserts.

First Lady Michelle Obama, in her high-profile campaign against childhood obesity, has specifically targeted food deserts; many cities – including Chicago and New York – are attempting to address the problem.  See, for example, Time’s excellent article on Farmers Best Market in Chicago.

Though generally favored and championed by the left, these efforts are worthwhile. As an aside, I’m particularly impressed with Baltimore’s efforts (a topic for another day).

But the full magnitude of the problem is important to remember.

Last year, the Department of Agriculture released a thoughtful report on the topic, “Access to Affordable and Nutricious Food: Measuring and Understanding Food Deserts and Their Consequences.”

The authors write: “Of all households in the United States, 2.3 million, or 2.2%, live more than a mile from a supermarket and do not have access to a vehicle. An additional 3.4 million households, or 3.2% of all households, live between one-half to 1 mile and do not have access to a vehicle.”

Urban initiatives may irrigate food deserts, but that will probably help only a sliver of the population.

What’s to be done? Professor Tomas Philipson and Judge Richard Posner suggest a robust role for the private sector in terms of medical innovation – an idea that is touted by the right. (Though, for the record, Philipson and Posner do see a legitimate government initiative: subsidies for medical research in order to foster medical innovation.)  They argue:

Another form of technological change—medical innovation—may be the most promising solution to the obesity problem, and here the government may serve a useful role by subsidizing basic research. Medical R&D has proved effective in disease control when behavioral change proved costly. Consider the replacement of quarantines by vaccines or of low-cholesterol diets by drugs, or drug treatments for HIV, which have changed the disease from a death sentence to a chronic condition, at least in wealthy populations.

Philipson and Posner see hope in recent pharmaceuticals, like Onexa (which is up for FDA approval).

And while it would be great to believe that we’re just a pill away from an obesity fix, the reality is that both left and right seem to be prescribing thin solutions for a major problem.

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46 Comments so far ↓

  • Watusie

    I would love to know what you “limited government” types have to say on this issue. Afterall, if food companies want to spend millions on developing foods which stimulate the pleasure sensors but provide no nutritional value, it is their right to do so, no? And if people get fat by eating these foods, it is their fault, isn’t it?

    The percentage of Americans who smoked dropped by half from 1965 to 2006: 42% to 20.8%. Which is an outrage because it was all due to government action and government-led social campaigns, which is nanny-statism as its worst, wouldn’t you say?

  • dante

    WTF? The right’s answer is “throw more money at the (corporate interests to solve the) problem”? God, why am I not surprised. Why don’t we do something as trivial as adjusting our farm subsidies to encourage more fresh fruits and vegetables and less processed food? Why are we spending billions of dollars of taxpayer dollars to grow corn, which is processed into HFCS which is then injected into just about everything we eat? It’s doing absolutely nothing to sustain us, it’s only providing a cheaper sugar at the expense of our health.

    It’s that simple, just prohibit farm subsidies to anything that goes into processed food. Focus on fresh (and frozen) vegetables, get the farms back to producing FOOD instead of sugar, and you would see a dramatic shift in obesity rates today…

  • TerryF98

    “Are We Losing the Fight Against Obesity?”

    Look around any Walmart and you have your answer!

  • Grand old partier

    There are addictive substances hidden in processed foods. The only non-addictive foods out there are whole foods, like fruits and vegetables. Almost everything you buy that is packaged has been tainted by additives like MSG (which is hidden with countless different names) processed sugars (also listed with many names on even the same products) fats, oils, and animal products, all of which are the cause of most modern diseases. All the information is out there, but only doctors, like Dr. John McDougall, will tell the truth. The rest are paid off and choose to ignore the causes making most Americans very, very sick and fat. It is not economical or easy to properly inform people so they stop getting sick and fat. It would also bankrupt the drug and medical industries.

  • dante

    Look around any Walmart and you have your answer!

    http://www.peopleofwalmart.com ?

  • DeepSouthPopulist

    “I would love to know what you “limited government” types have to say on this issue. Afterall, if food companies want to spend millions on developing foods which stimulate the pleasure sensors but provide no nutritional value, it is their right to do so, no? And if people get fat by eating these foods, it is their fault, isn’t it? ”

    Yes and Yes. If someone wants to smoke or eat themselves into an early grave, it’s a free country.

    And I would like know which social problems you non-limited government types believe should not be solved by government.

    I take it you favor government action to stamp out every problem you perceive.

  • Watusie

    So, DSP, do you disapprove of all that has been done in the past 40 years to reduce smoking rates by half?

    Corporations sneaking high fructose corn syrup into EVERYTHING is making people fat which in turns drives up the cost of your access to health care. That is OK with you?

  • TerryF98

    People like DSP would be perfectly happy for children to still be born without arms and legs due to a drug pushed as a panacea.

    Would be happy for DDT to still be around wreaking havoc on nature.
    Would be delighted if the Great Lakes continued to be a cesspit of chemicals and human untreated excrement.
    Would be over the moon that smog still blanketed our major cities.

    Am I right DSP, you do know that all these Corporation caused events were righted by big government do you not?

  • DeepSouthPopulist

    “So, DSP, do you disapprove of all that has been done in the past 40 years to reduce smoking rates by half?”

    I approve of some of it, like forcing tobacco companies to accurately label their product as poison so people can make an informed decision, which many have done.

    “Corporations sneaking high fructose corn syrup into EVERYTHING is making people fat which in turns drives up the cost of your access to health care. That is OK with you?”

    They don’t sneak it anything in; it’s on every label for all to see. But some people will always choose to consume those products anyway just as some choose to smoke.

  • DeepSouthPopulist

    “People like DSP would be perfectly happy for children to still be born without arms and legs due to a drug pushed as a panacea.”

    I’m not an anarchist. Government regulations are appropriate for situations such as you describe.

    This discussion is about food, not DDT.

  • abk1985

    I don’t think people stopped smoking because of the government. I think people stop smoking for basically two reasons: concerns of its effect on their health, or those around them, and the rising taxes on smoking, which make a much bigger dent on the pocketbook.

    I smoke tobacco still and in the ’60′s I not only smoked tobacco but everything else in sight. I have lived within the law the past 40 years, but if those laws were repealed fershur I would be toking. Not very often, but occasionally. BTW, I drink alcohol occasionally as well.

    Obesity is not a “problem” to me but since I have worked for years to ensure that my BMI is below 25 and I have to say that personal choice has something, if not a lot, to do with this.

    As I see it the basic culprit here is that people are not using their bodies for the purpose for which they were designed, which is to be physically active. Especially as you get older, your circulation starts to get sluggish and the only way around that is exercise.

    Obesity in inner cities is not a function of not enough fruits and vegetables it is — as someone who used to live on the fringes of Harlem — more a function of being afraid to go wandering around the streets at all hours and having few opportunities for the physical activity that everyone must have to stay fit.

    Coming up with a pill to address obesity is like coming up with a pill to address erectile dysfunction: if you were exercising you wouldn’t need either one. While we’re on the subject, why would people want to take a purple pill to cure acid reflux when the most obvious cure is to stop eating the foods that cause it. Duh.

    Weight gain is directly related to more calories in than calories out. So the first rule has to be exercise, unless you just want to eat oatmeal three times a day. The second rule is eating fewer calories than you normally burn. Also obvious.

    The reason people are touting fruits and veggies is that these are lo cal foods that are filling. That’s one way to go about it. The other is to just stop eating (well, actually, eat smaller portions.) Anyone can do this and they can’t do it, you cannot force them. I think people enjoy eating food. According to the rules of Nanny Statism, they must be punished.

    BTW, All of this targeting HFC is BS. When I felt I was putting on too much weight, I simply stopped eating pizza and cheeseburgers. And I stopped drinking 2-3 giant cokes every day. After a couple months, I didn’t even miss them. However, people like Margaret Hoover will continue to insist that it’s all about HFCs, or fast foods, instead of recognizing the role of personal responsibility in this.

    The real issue here, as I see it, is that people don’t _mind_ being obese. What we really need is a (1) an educational strategy for people to know how to control their weight, and (2) positive selling points that give people a _reason_ to control their weight.

    There is nanny statism and there is nanny statism. Personally, I like fats and oils, and foods prepared in fats and oils. In my lifetime, I have seen lard, butter, tropical oils, and now transfats variously fingered as the “root cause” of obesity, heart disease, whatever. Fine, they can finger whatever they want, the only time it becomes nanny statism in my view is when people like Mayor Bloomberg decree that thou cannot prepared baked goods with transfats. Good thing I don’t eat in NYC anymore. I understand he also wants to ban the use of salt in restaurant kitchens as well.

  • Watusie

    DSP, you are avoiding the real question, the reason why this is a public policy issue. Our food industry produces primarily empty calories which makes people fat which in turns drives up the cost of health care access for everyone – even skinny folks loaded with self control like you.

  • TerryF98

    @DSP

    “I take it you favor government action to stamp out every problem you perceive.”

    I am perfectly happy for there to be Government departments that oversee and regulate Corporations so they do not do the sort of things I detailed. That is the only way to stop these things. Industry does not regulate itself, especially when there is a cost to stopping the abuses.

    Do you agree?

  • Watusie

    abk I don’t think people stopped smoking because of the government. I think people stop smoking for basically two reasons: concerns of its effect on their health, or those around them, and the rising taxes on smoking, which make a much bigger dent on the pocketbook.

    People were made aware of the effect on their health by the government. Tobacco was prohibited from confusing the issue with misleading advertising by the government. And the taxes….well, I’ll let you work that one out for yourself!

  • abk1985

    >>People like DSP would be perfectly happy for children to still be born without arms and legs due to a drug pushed as a panacea.<<

    Over the top. There's nothing wrong with properly branding products or banning products that will cause birth defects, like Thalidomide. And there's nothing wrong with environmental protection, either.

    If and when HFC and transfats are shown to cause birth defects, let me know, and we can carefully label the cans. If you want to have "obesity warning" labels on candy bars, go ahead. This is about the fundamental human freedom to eat whatever you want to eat, and however much you want to eat.
    INCLUDING dangerous or potentially dangerous substances. I'm glad that I can now on occasion have a glass of absinthe, for example.

    Comparing obesity to environmental pollution is just loony.

  • abk1985

    Watusie: I don’t understand where you are going with this. My vision of limited government is that it doesn’t TELL me what to do. It can ADVISE me all it wants. I mean, once I pay my taxes, the government can do whatever it wants with them.

  • abk1985

    And, while we are on the subject, what’s with “empty calories” and “non-nutritional foods” and obesity? If your body typically burns 2 K calories a day, and you consume 3 K calories, I don’t care how “full” those calories are or how “nutritional” they are, your body will store those extra calories as FAT. It’s that simple.

    If all of us — and that includes me — stepped away or rolled away from the keyboard and walked around town for a couple of hours every day, I’m sure our health profiles would all improve. We’d feel better about ourselves, have better sex, and be much more relaxed when we went online and saw people who don’t care about obesity being compared to “human untreated excrement” in Lake Erie.

  • PracticalGirl

    DeepSouth, I applaud your consistency. As one who occassionally occassionally indulges in a 5,000 calorie trans-fat-laden meal, I will admit to a bit of anarchy in these personal decisions.

    But I wonder-Is it possible for you to play “long ball” on this one? Type 2 diabetes and other chronic illnesses associated with poor nutrition and obesity have reached near-epidemic levels in our country, and the taxpayers get to pay the consequences when it comes to increasing Medicare costs as those with these diseases get older and into the system. Doesn’t it make some sense for the government to attempt to mitigate end costs up front?

    That said, I must note that you don’t have to live in a “food desert” nor even go to Walmart to see that Americans need to take control of their own food choices. Too many Americans are too “busy” to eat well. I admire Michelle Obama for attempting to change the fast food mentality but ultimately this isn’t a choice the government can mandate.

  • Bebe99

    I’ve stopped telling people that since I stopped using commercial toothpaste, antiperspirant and processed foods my years of physical and emotional health problems stopped as well. They think I’m crazy. I feel 10 years younger. I’ve since switched to a whole food diet whenever possible. Our food is full of unhealthy junk that perserves shelf-life. Those chemicals don’t do people any good at all. This is a national health epidemic.

  • TerryF98

    “and be much more relaxed when we went online and saw people who don’t care about obesity being compared to “human untreated excrement” in Lake Erie.’

    Over the top, and a complete lie. I said that people who are small government fanatics would be happy with the great lakes as they were before regulation. Remember to some ALL regulation is bad, the free market self corrects remember that CW that is total crap?

  • Rabiner

    abk1985:

    “I don’t think people stopped smoking because of the government. I think people stop smoking for basically two reasons: concerns of its effect on their health, or those around them, and the rising taxes on smoking, which make a much bigger dent on the pocketbook.”

    Taxes is a common government action on goods to manipulate demand. Cigarettes are one of the biggest interventions into a consumer good and has been successful in reducing the rates at which people smoke. The reason the rates have declined isn’t because those taxes have caused adults to stop smoking but because taxes are the #1 factor in reducing teenage smoking and if teenagers stop smoking then they don’t need to stop as adults.

    “If and when HFC and transfats are shown to cause birth defects, let me know, and we can carefully label the cans. If you want to have “obesity warning” labels on candy bars, go ahead. This is about the fundamental human freedom to eat whatever you want to eat, and however much you want to eat.
    INCLUDING dangerous or potentially dangerous substances. I’m glad that I can now on occasion have a glass of absinthe, for example. ”

    I do have issue with candy bars, not because they cause people to become obese but because our government policies subsidize their creation. Corn products are cheap because we subsidize it heavily. I think we should be taxing processed foods to help pay for health care in this country. Notice how caloric dense foods are cheaper than nutritiously dense foods? Soda in many instances can be purchased for less than water and so on.

    “The reason people are touting fruits and veggies is that these are lo cal foods that are filling. That’s one way to go about it. The other is to just stop eating (well, actually, eat smaller portions.) Anyone can do this and they can’t do it, you cannot force them. I think people enjoy eating food. According to the rules of Nanny Statism, they must be punished.”

    Everyone is punished when people become obese. They become less productive, more included to be hurt, and down the road cost more in health care related costs.

    “Obesity in inner cities is not a function of not enough fruits and vegetables it is — as someone who used to live on the fringes of Harlem — more a function of being afraid to go wandering around the streets at all hours and having few opportunities for the physical activity that everyone must have to stay fit.”

    This ignores or minimizes the lack of access that some people have to produce. Also you do touch on an important subject however that poor communities have significantly less public space (parks) than wealthy communities which probably affects obesity rates as well.

  • forgetn

    Worse ever moment of my life, three months ago, got on a B737, window seat. Plane about to close its door, and some huge fat bastard walks on. Swear to God the man could not walk between the seats.

    Guess what, he stopped at my isle, yes you guess it! He sat next to me (he had booked two seats). Small problem, although I am thin, I’m 6’4″ so there was not that much spare space for him (even with two seats) to spread himself. Most uncomfortable flight of my life.

    From my recent visit to the US (Texas and Louisiana) I was shock by how fat Americans have become. My sister, who recently visited Disney, told me that at the entrance there are now more motorized chairs than strollers. I believe that fight has been lost already.

    Diabetes, heart diseases, liver problems etc etc.

  • DeepSouthPopulist

    @wastusie/praticalgirl

    “Medicare costs as those with these diseases get older and into the system. Doesn’t it make some sense for the government to attempt to mitigate end costs up front?”

    Yes, but the government already does this by making food manufacturers label their products so that people who are concerned about high fructose corn syrup and other unhealthy ingredients can make other choices.

    There isn’t anything else they can do except return the country to 1920s era prohibition, but with food instead of alcohol.

    Again, your government solution to the problem you perceive is not clear to me.

  • Watusie

    There is nothing that the current administration has done that has not been derided by the right as trampling on our sacred liberties. And I do mean nothing – even making BP pay for its oil spill was proclaimed to be an unconscionable abuse of power.

    Forty years ago we had a tobacco industry which promoted smoking as glamorous. Then the government stepped in and regulated cigarette advertising out of existence while promoting its own message that smoking was actually disgusting and dangerous. All the while taxing the hell out of tobacco.

    What if that had not happened in the 1960′s – what if Obama were trying to do it today? Would the tea party be going batshit crazy, pointing out that the Nazi had a vigorous anti-tobacco campaign and therefore Obama = Hitler?

    Probably.

    I feel a bit bad about having typed that, not only because of Godwin’s Law but also because historical hypotheticals almost always lead nowhere.

    So, abk, DSP, etc – where am I going with this? Are you going to agree that it would be good government policy to intervene vis a vis the food industry, given that they produce primarily empty calories which makes people fat which in turns drives up the cost of health care access for everyone?

    abk – give some empty calories and they’ll consume more calories. give someone nutritionally beneficial calories and they’ll consume less.

    DSP – I don’t know what the solution might be. But then again, 40 years ago I would not have imagined all of the anti-smoking measures that would eventually come into effect, either.

    The question is – are you going to encourage or even allow the government to act? Or are you going to say that it was the Founding Fathers intent that we should all be priced out of the healthcare market in the name of Nabisco’s profits?

  • abk1985

    TerryF98: Okay, sorry, I read your post too fast.

    I think the difference between the sides on this issue is not so great.

    Rabiner: The biggest uptick in tobacco costs has taken place in the past 10 years. (I know because I smoke). It has caused me and many other adults to cut back on smoking (i.e., how many). I’m not sure how kids come into the picture here.

    The taxes on smoking are supposed to be used to pay for the health costs caused by smoking. In practice however I understand the money is used for all kinds of purposes. It follows therefore that the state in fact has an interest in keeping people smoking, because it’s a nice little sin tax.

    I did not live in Harlem, but I bought my groceries there and sometimes restaurant food. This is not a shortage of produce problem. The problem is that inner cities, like many other parts of the country, have a diet that’s rooted in farm labor: high in fats, meats (especially fatty pork), dairy, and vegetables of all kinds drenched in butter and salt salt salt. If you grew up on a farm, as my grandparents did, you ate like that and you burned most of it off. Whatever overweight you had was balanced by strength and good circulatory systems.

    The problem is that we no longer work like farmers but we still like to eat like farmers. That is why we are obese. We should be eating like the white collar couch potatoes we actually are. Which means 1500 calories a day, tops. But you can’t FORCE people to do that.

  • abk1985

    Watusie: That is not what empty calories are. Empty calories are calories that have little or no nutritional value. If I fed you 2000 empty calories a day, you would be full. But you would be liable for pellagra, or scurvy or something like that. If I fed you 2000 “full” calories you would have well balanced diet.

    “Are you going to agree that it would be good government policy to intervene vis a vis the food industry,”

    And what exactly do you have in mind in terms of government policy? Branding? Labels? Do you want to ban commercials for McDonald’s or Kellogg’s Corn Flakes? Be specific, please. Speaking for myself, I don’t care what the government does, as long as I can get some of the really good grease when I feel like it.

  • Watusie

    abk. Everything I’ve ever read saiys empty calories leave you hungry. If you’ve got a different definition, okie dokie.

    As I just wrote in the comment you are responding to, I don’t know what the solution might be. But then again, 40 years ago I would not have imagined all of the anti-smoking measures that would eventually come into effect, either. The question is – does the right acknowledge that this is a legitimate sphere for government action?

  • ktward

    Another form of technological change—medical innovation—may be the most promising solution to the obesity problem …

    The cause of our national obesity problem is ultimately a complex mix of societal, physiological and nutritional dysfunctions. To suggest that we solve the problem by throwing a pill at it is like suggesting that a can of Lysol will take care of air pollution.

    For many, obesity is, in large part, a result of extreme malnourishment: too much high calorie, cheap and easily accessible crap food, and too little fresh nutrition-dense food. We require nutritious food not solely to manage our weight (not all nutrient-dense food is low calorie), but to remain healthy. Not that I’m against stop-gap supplements, but there isn’t a pill on the planet that can serve as a substitute for the real thing. Popping a C tablet is not remotely the same thing as eating an orange.

    Medical R&D has proved effective in disease control when behavioral change proved costly. Consider the replacement of quarantines by vaccines or of low-cholesterol diets by drugs, or drug treatments for HIV, which have changed the disease from a death sentence to a chronic condition, at least in wealthy populations.

    In the case of obesity, behavioral change is *essential*. Costly or not, there is no substitute for it, although meds can augment the weight-loss process. The comparative analogy offered by the article’s author is profoundly absurd: we developed vaccines & meds not because we couldn’t effectively quarantine patients or otherwise control their behavior, but because patients were either horribly afflicted or died as a result of the disease.

    As to the weight-loss meds currently gearing up for FDA approval: in every case, this class of meds is meant to be used only under strict physician supervision accompanied by — Yep! — behavioral mods in both diet and exercise. As well, potential side-effects are a huge issue … FDA rejected Qnexa:

    But the drug has side effects, both known and theoretical. It may cause birth defects, it may increase suicide risk, it can cause a condition called metabolic acidosis that speeds bone loss, it increases risk of kidney stones, and may have other serious effects.

    “It is difficult if not impossible to weigh these issues as the clinical trials went on only for a year, and patients will use this drug for lifetime,” (panel chair Kenneth) Burman said. “It is impossible to extrapolate the trial data to the wider population.”

  • abk1985

    Watusie: I am going offline and hope to be gone for a few days: I have to put my money where my mouth is and try to jazz my system with some cardio.

    To your question, I consider myself a paleoconservative with strong libertarian sympathies. However, conservatism is not completely a live and let live philosophy. Just because it allows laissez faire in commerce, as libertarianism allows laissez faire in conduct, does not mean that there are not preferences.

    Conservatives recognize the division of the human family into groups, however the got there. Nowadays the dominant grouping principle is nation states. Nation states are more likely to be successful — like any individual human being — if they boast certain attributes, such as health, good education, pleasant appearance, physical strength and endurance, good manners, good mental habits, and so forth.

    Hence conservatives would be in favor of anything that improves our national qualities or virtues.

    I do think the government has a legitimate state interest in immigration control, increasing the native birth rate, decreasing sex out of marriage, reducing the promiscuity and sexuality of our dominant culture, improving the health, strength, and virtue of Americans, and, yes, reducing obesity.

    The problem is how to do it.

    From the POV of being a smoker, I don’t think any of the measures against smoking that I can think of have been objectionable, with one exception: the fact that I can’t go into a bar and have a drink and a smoke. However, since I only did that maybe 2-3 times a year, it’s no big loss.

    I’m not sure how you can get people to eat less and exercise more. I know a 2o something obese woman who was teased about her weight. She promptly went out to exercise and strained a muscle and then spent the next two weeks playing Farmville and noshing McNuggets to get over it. Most of the women in my town but luckily not my spouse are obese. They spend a lot of time watching TV, or are on Facebook, and they drag themselves down to the van to get in line at Mickey D’s once or twice a day.

    Question is: What to do? I favor any strategy but not prohibition. I am pretty much an absolutist on free speech and freedom of action, even action deleterious to the self. Maybe someone has some specific ideas.

  • LFC

    Fascinating conversation. This is one of those instances where the comments are more interesting than the initial post.

    DSP, you said “I would like know which social problems you non-limited government types believe should not be solved by government.” For me, this would be one of them outside of nutrition and exercise programs, especially for kids. The points made by others on ending government subsidies for corn, sugar, beef, etc. are also very good.

    This may sound a bit cold, but one area not mentioned was the left-wing protection of people who are fat. They talk about comments being cruel and how people should be proud of their bodies no matter what. They defend peoples’ “right” to be able to physically fit wherever they go. I’m sorry, but if you’re body screams that you eat thousands of calories too many and don’t exercise, you have no right to be proud of it. It is simply the highly visible result your failure to take care of yourself.

  • Rabiner

    abk1985:

    “Question is: What to do? I favor any strategy but not prohibition. I am pretty much an absolutist on free speech and freedom of action, even action deleterious to the self. Maybe someone has some specific ideas.”

    This is where taxation can be used to dictate consumer behavior. Taxation worked for cigarettes. It’s worked on gasoline. It’s worked in a number of instances that reduces consumption of a commodity. Why don’t we tax foods with added sugar or other foods that are purely empty calories? It would either change consumer behavior or would bring in revenues to the state to help offset the costs of that behavior or most likely both.

  • easton

    I do think the government has a legitimate state interest in immigration control, increasing the native birth rate

    Not sure how increasing the native birth rate is superior to importing the best and brightest from around the world, with most coming already already educated up to a very high level.

    Certainly we are a fat and lazy country, but having lived in Asia I can honestly state you can live well and have a balanced and delicious diet. Our diet in the US is a disaster, no question about that.

  • easton

    And one thing I do not understand is if I were so fat why do these people not take radical steps. I moved to China, I lost 30 pounds without any effort whatsoever and kept if off for years, it has only been since I moved to Mexico (where I live is truly a nutrition desert) that I put a lot of it back on, but I know when I do eventually move back to the states I will go back on an Asian diet.

  • ktward

    abk1985 asks, really, the only question that matters: What to do?

    1. First and foremost, the most proactive effort is non-stop PR. Public awareness.
    We eventually caught on that smoking was all kinds of bad for us: parents stopped smoking for their kids’ sake both in terms of health and modeling; the Surgeon General spoke out; schools taught the evils of smoking in health class. On an on. But that decades-long PR campaign was Gov-funded and directed, and it would not have happened if it had been left to the whims of the private sector.

    So, rather than slam Michele Obama with petty partisan criticisms (if you’re so inclined), consider her efforts as part of the necessary PR. Build on her message, rather than tear it to shreds.

    2. Gov regulation.
    I hear knee-jerking as I type, but some sweet regs are already in place and completely reasonable. Case in point: nutrition labels. You don’t believe food manufacturers put all that valuable info on their packaging out of the philanthropic goodness of their hearts, do you? It didn’t happen until Gov. regulation, via the FDA, required it. Consequently, consumers are now able to make truly informed choices, not choices based on Keebler’s elven marketing.

    (This is a shining example of how the free-market is at its best when smart gov regulations are in place: Keebler reformulates according to the demands of a better-informed market; new companies more immediately and culturally attuned to meet well-informed consumer demand become successful; MickeyD’s offers apples as an alternative to fries in their Happy Meals.)

    More options for beneficial Gov. intervention (IMHO, significantly more effective & inarguably healthier long-term than R & D funding of diet pills and, for all we know, cheaper to boot) :
    - Education: science-based, nutritional mandates for lunch programs; recess/PE mandates, and funding for districts that cannot meet requirements. (School Boards have slashed PE programs every year in the attempt to meet their super-strapped budgets and comply with grossly under-funded NCLB mandates.)
    - Tax breaks, or some other mechanism, to incentivize ‘food desert’ grocery retailers to provide a mandated percentage of fresh food/produce commensurate with their own State or Regional average.
    - Tax credit or other incentive toward the purchase of exercise equipment or gym membership.
    - Funding to community Park Districts for program outreach, either diet or exercise-related. (This is especially important for kid programs: many of our kids simply cannot, today, just go outside and play street hockey with the neighborhood rugrats.)
    - Big Ag/Farm subsidies: time to pull the plug on what has become perverse funding of Big Ag, and re-distribute to our farm-to-table food farmers as originally intended.

    3. Personal responsibility. (Got your attention?)
    Admittedly, this is extraordinarily difficult to measure or mandate, but it’s absolutely part of the solution. However, given the growing severity of this particularly chronic health crisis that affects every single one of us on some level, without a comprehensively implemented 1 and 2, 3 is simply a wishful afterthought rather than a reasonable and justifiable expectation.

  • anniemargret

    Bad food is cheap. Nutritious whole unprocessed foods are expensive. The average individual in the US is exhausted . They are up at 6:30 AM and have to get their kids on the bus, and then rush to work themselves. They come home at 5:30 or 6PM. Their kids are hungry, Dad is just coming in the door . They take the easy way out and eat something fast….and not nutritious.

    Lordy…. everyone needs to get off the high horse. Of course we should all be eating better and exercising more. Our society is fast-paced and we are a nation of workaholics. A German friend of mine who visited once said Americans work too much and don’t relax. We don’t savor our food anymore, we gulp in down. Europeans know how to enjoy their food, don’t overeat, walk and bike more, and relax more .

    This problem is also society-related. The fact that we are bombarded by cheap food and sodas in the media doesn’t help . No one cooks anymore. I still cook for my husband and myself, since my kids are all grown and out. It takes time to cook whole nutritious foods. The average family is straining for time.

    This is a big factor which must be weighed in with all the other arguments posted above. Also if you all haven’t read Michael Pollan’s wonderful books on food and the food industry, do! Especially his “IN Defense of Food” in which he excoriates America’s favorite past-time…demonizing the latest food or looking for the ‘miracle food.’

  • anniemargret

    Also, there is one point that I don’t believe anyone yet has made…. the one size fits all solution to every body in America. Ridiculous. First of all, women’s bodies are far more complex hormonally than men’s. Ask any women and they will tell you that when their husbands want to reduce, all they do is cut out some calories…and voila!….they lose weight. The woman can do the exact same thing, but her body resists.

    Secondly, there isn’t such a thing as a diet that will work for everyone . Reduced fat or low-cal diets are great for folks who have 15-25 lbs to lose. It rarely works for the person who must lose 50-65 lbs. Just reducing calories, even with exercise (and new stats show that exercise does NOT reduce weight – it helps with muscle tone and strengthening, but actually factors in little with weight loss unless you are working out strenulously everyday), does not work for most people.

    Eating lots of fruit can be a tremendous weight inducer for many women who suffer from metabolic syndrome – or resistance. For these folks, eliminating all sugar from the diet (including fruit or very limited fruit), and all starches is the only way they lose weight. Ever see those glamorous actresses or models on TV or in the movies? They eat very, very little, and/or eat protein dense foods, ‘good fats’ and almost no starch or sugar.

    There is NO easy magic solution for the average American. Each person must find a way…and for some – they need assistance. We offer assistance to the smoker, the drinker, the gambler – all addictions. Some people are becoming exercise addicts – to the detriment of relationships .

    Anyone can be addicted to anything at any time, and food is no exception. This is a very complex issue that is seldom just about eating less and exercising more . If it were that easy, we wouldn’t be having a problem!

  • Madeline

    Three million Chicago residents and half of Detroit’s population reside in food deserts.

    Since Chicago has fewer than three million residents total, I’m doubting that this statistic is true.

  • Rabiner

    “Since Chicago has fewer than three million residents total, I’m doubting that this statistic is true.”

    The greater Chicago area probably has more than 3 million. Just like Los Angeles may not have 15 million but the metropolitan area does.

  • sinz54

    Watusie: I would love to know what you “limited government” types have to say on this issue.
    End Government farm subsidies.

    And that would eliminate the market distortions that have made corn products (like corn syrup) so much more profitable than fresh fruits and vegetables.

    And this is where we conservatives part company with mainstream Republicans (as well as Democrats), who keep showering farmers and agribusiness with subsidies in exchange for their votes and campaign contributions.

  • sinz54

    anniemargaret:

    The biggest contributors to obesity in the suburbs are the automobile and the school bus, which have virtually eliminated walking in favor of door-to-door transportation.

    When I lived in New York City, I used the subways. But the nearest subway station was some 5 blocks from my home. Then when I got off the subway, it was another 5 block walk to my school. And some of the bigger subway stations are huge; changing trains at Times Square involves another long walk from one subway line to the others. You got at least some exercise that way.

    Now, I see kids being dropped off by school bus. The school bus stops at one kid’s home, and he gets off the bus. Then the school bus travels a half a block to the next home, and another kid gets off there. And so on. Each kid gets deposited right at his doorway, as the school bus ties up traffic behind it for half a mile. What’s the matter, a kid can’t walk a few blocks to his home?

    And I see shoppers in their automobiles at shopping malls, cruising around and around till they find an available parking space right next to the store. What’s the matter, they can’t park at the far end of the parking lot and walk over to the store?

  • anniemargret

    sinz54: I grew up as well in NYC. Where did you grow up? Manhattan? I grew up in northeast Bronx, and we walked to the bus or train, about a 5-6 block walk. Then took that and walked again.

    Yes. Our entire country is overly dependent on the car and we are paying for it in more ways than one. Also, our children no longer have ‘recess’….. in some cases, there are no more classes in PE either.

    Throw in exhausted parents both working all day and then having to cart their kids to soccer and little league games, etc…and you’ve got the menu for a bad eating pattern for the whole family. As a person growing up in an Italian household, believe me, I learned to cook at the age of 5. I still try to cook from scratch whenever I can because I hate all the chemicals in foods.

    But those on this blog that see this problem as simply an act of will power are ignoring the other issues that play into this big time…. expense/hormones/car dependency, etc…

  • sinz54

    anniemargaret:

    As a kid, I lived in the Bronx. Then my family moved to Brooklyn.

    In both places, the nearest subway station was quite a hike from home. And btw, the supermarket was maybe four blocks from home: We brought a shopping cart to the supermarket, loaded it up with groceries, and pushed it home, walking all the way.

    The automobile, with its effortless door-to-door travel, has removed the need for suburban Americans to walk anywhere anymore. No wonder they’re all getting soft and fat.

  • anniemargret

    Gosh ….you and I are probably one time neighbors. My Dad worked in Brooklyn for 36 years. We are poles apart politically, but sometimes we can agree…to disagree!

    Yes, I remember the shopping carts and riding bikes with groceries in the basket. With all our conveniences today, sometimes things were much better in the ‘old days.’

    I would prefer we do more in mass transit and get off the car dependence…

  • Madeline

    “Since Chicago has fewer than three million residents total, I’m doubting that this statistic is true.”

    The greater Chicago area probably has more than 3 million. Just like Los Angeles may not have 15 million but the metropolitan area does.

    The Chicago metropolitan area has 11 million people. But the statistic in this post is still in error.

    From David Gratzer’s post:

    Three million Chicago residents and half of Detroit’s population reside in food deserts.

    From the linked Time article:

    Experts have declared roughly half of Detroit (pop. 916,000) a food desert and estimate that nearly 633,000 of Chicago’s 3 million residents live in neighborhoods either lacking or far away from conventional supermarkets like Jewel, Pathmark and Winn-Dixie.

  • sinz54

    anniemargaret:

    Unlike you, I and my family lived in the West Bronx.

    But compared to the size of this nation, that still made us neighbors. We could have met with just a short crosstown bus ride.

  • anniemargret

    sinz… I have great memories of my middle class upbringing in the Bronx. I bet you do too. West Bronx? I lived for awhile off Kingsbridge Rd when I was first married, and spent a lot of time in Van Cortlandt park and Riverdale.

    My own neck of the woods was near Albert Einstein Medical Center near Eastchester Rd . Went to school (CUNY) Hunter College, Bronx campus, where Natalie Wood filmed Herman Wouk’s ‘Majorie Morningstar” and down the street from Bronx High School of Science where Bobby Darin went to school.

    Yep…. it always seems I run into somebody somewhere somehow with similar memories. Did you ever read Robert Klein’s “The Amorous Busboy of Decatur Avenue? Funny! Brought back a lot of memories as a kid in 50s NYC. Highly recommend.