Quick Hit: The Myth of the Obesity Tsunami

A great Op-Ed is out today from Cato: The Myth of the “Obesity Tsunami”

Here are the last three paragraphs, but I encourage you to read the whole piece. No Sanity Watchers’ points required!

The findings of the English survey not only contradict the claim that we are in the midst of an obesity epidemic, but they also debunk the public health establishment’s erroneous claim that increases in children’s weight are due to junkfood advertising and too many sugary soda drinks. According to the survey, the root cause of any weight gains that one does see appear to lie in physical activity levels. For example, “21 per cent of girls aged two to 15 in the low physical-activity group were classed as obese compared with 15 per cent of the high group”.

A similar pattern was found in the 2006 survey, which found that 33 per cent of girls aged two to 15 with low levels of physical activity were either overweight or obese compared with 27 per cent of those with high levels of physical activity. As with smoking, obesity prevalence was higher in both boys and girls in the lowest income group.

Clearly, governments’ current course of draconian regulatory treatment seeks to cure an illusory disease. The nanny state’s infatuation with an obesity epidemic that does not exist is a searing indictment of this particular public health crusade.


Case-building: Making Fatties the Deviants

In every good moral panic one needs a deviant group on which to blame the ills of the current moral (financial, political) crisis. Since moral panics seek to fix some broken part of society, it makes sense that a group of people is singled out to symbolize the ills associated with the crisis.

Since the late nineties (around the time of the last BMI revision in 1998), the number of news stories about the so-called “obesity epidemic” increased exponentially, reaching a fever pitch in 2004. Check out the timeline chart on the top of the Google News results for “obesity epidemic”:

Frequency of "obesity epidemic" in news stories from 1990 - 2009, via Google

(I can’t find the chart, but I think this somewhat parallels, oddly, the average BMI increase in that same time period, which topped off in 2004 or 2005)

A recent example of the creation of a deviant group to take the brunt of the latest healthism/healthcare panic is the assertion that cases of diabetes are going to keep rising, with a concomitant soaring of costs. (h/t Andy Jo)

Blaming rising healthcare costs on us fatties is one way of covering one’s ass when one isn’t willing to institute any meaningful healthcare reform, just new entitlements.

This is case-building: so that when people are pissed off that healthcare costs haven’t dropped under a new system of entitlements, they direct that anger at some deviant group, rather than where it belongs — at the philosophy of entitlement with its false utopian vision, and the proponents of that vision.

I’ve said it before, and will say it again. When you make your body the financial business of your neighbor, get ready for your neighbor claiming the right to have say over your body. In other words, making healthcare a public financial burden makes your body public business, and thus erodes the most fundamental right of living in a free society.

This is merely the tip of the iceberg, folks. The government takeover of healthcare hasn’t even passed in the Senate, yet, and there’s already talk of reigning in costs by discriminating against particular groups of people, in this case a popular deviant group of the Healthistic moral: fat people. Do you think it’s going to stop at higher taxes for fat people, if that isn’t bad enough? I predict it will not: forced interventions, children being taken away from their parents, fat people being practically barred from some kinds of  employment, and the ultimate loss of the freedom to pursue happiness in the confines of liberty will be the end result of this government takeover of healthcare. And it will start with fatties, but it won’t end with us, because we are not the source of all healthcare-related ills.

Stay tuned. It’s going to be one helluva ride.

When Other People Pay For It, They Can Claim the Right to Control It

I’ve said this several times before, but it bears repeating: when other people can make a reasonable argument that they are paying for the choices you make about your body (even if those choices are only perceived choices), then they can claim the right to have a say in your choices.

Take the furor over the Stupak amendment to the recently passed House healthcare bill. I was walking through Harvard Square last afternoon on my way to my weekly voice lesson, and there were congregated at the mouth of the stairs to the station a group of protesters, who desired to get the Stupak language stricken from the (potentially) reconciled House and Senate bill.

I didn’t stop; I’m rather used to Harvard Square protesters. Let’s just say they’re not a particularly rare occurrence.

But I couldn’t help shaking my head and thinking, as I descended the stairs into the station, how those pro-choice, body-freedom people on the left are finally discovering that the greatest threat to their personal choices and freedoms isn’t some corporation or private entity, but widespread government control.

I’ve long heard fauxgressives waxing philosophical about how greater government control at the federal level would loose certain states from fascist, body-controlling regimes. They claim that those who don’t want to use taxpayer dollars to subsidize abortions in some way are the extreme fringe social conservatives, who I agree are fairly nuts. But this goes way deeper than that. The abortion debate has never really been about fending off nutty social conservatives, in my opinion. And it’s not just about abortion as a choice; it’s a symbol for the much greater question of government control vs. body autonomy.

That question is at the center of the debate on government’s role in healthcare.

The Stupak amendment clearly illustrates that with few votes to pass it, late at night on a Saturday when most people aren’t watching C-SPAN (though I was, dammit), a large swath of your freedom can be subverted. And though the Stupak amendment didn’t go as far as banning abortion outright, it did quite plainly single out a behavior that was unpopular and discriminate against it.

In the free market, if there’s demand, there’s availability. In a controlled market, there’s a hell of a lot more white noise between demand and supply. It’s not enough that you and your neighborhood wants it, your representative has to want it, too. And then he’s got to be powerful enough that he can band up with other reps, who need to be part of a majority in the country. And that’s assuming that your reps are listening to you at all, and you’re not a lonely city in a gerrymandered district that is locked into political representation with which you fundamentally disagree.

In a free market, if you buy a boat and never use it, and you have a mariner neighbor who would love a boat but can’t afford one for whatever reason, that neighbor can’t blame you for his lack of a boat. However, in a system controlled by the government, there’s a single pie. If you take a bigger piece, you’re necessarily taking from somebody. So your mariner neighbor could claim that you did, in fact, diminish his ability to buy a boat. He might then be in favor of a law which only allows boats to be sold to mariners, since that would be his only recourse. In a free market, next season you might find out that they replaced expensive parts with less expensive parts, and turned out a model of boat that was more affordable, because they realized there was an untapped market for cheaper boats. Everyone wins.

In a free market, if I ruin my health due to various behaviors, my neighbor has no stake in it. If I get an abortion, it doesn’t affect my neighbor at all. If I eat ten steak-and-donut sandwiches a day and suck down more opium than oxygen, it doesn’t make a single bit of financial difference to my neighbor.*

The point of all of this is, those of you who really believe that giving government greater control over healthcare is going to give you more freedom over your body and health choices can take the Stupak amendment as a warning shot. And if you think they’re not going to come for the fatties next or soon, you’re dreaming. As soon as costs rise (and the projected healthcare spending as a percentage of GDP will rise if the current bills on the table pass), and people are getting taxed at higher rates, fined for not having acceptable coverage, or even thrown in prison with up to a fine of $250,000 for not having acceptable coverage, they’re going to clamor that costs can be forced down by regulating the behavior of those with perceived preventable conditions.

Healthcare reform isn’t a fantasy; there are real reforms that can be made which would make buying plans cheaper, give greater access, and yes, even help cover those who have slipped through the cracks, without shackling citizens to some bureaucracy with the threat of imprisonment if they don’t comply (though there’s certainly a larger Constitutional question in all that). But what’s being put forward by Reid and Pelosi isn’t healthcare reform. It’s a giant grab for power and a threat to your freedom to choose.


My Body, Their Choice – Reason.com

House Bill Increases Healthcare Costs – Politico.com

Listing the New Taxes in the Senate Healthcare Bill – Wall Street Journal

Mandatory Insurance is Unconstitutional – Wall Street Journal

Stupak Amendment Threatens the Rights of Every American – The Huffington Post

Rationing’s First Step – Investor’s Business Daily

* Those who assume the insurance system we have now is a free market system are way off the mark, so arguments about the current state of insurance risk-pooling are irrelevant. Additionally, the argument that the uninsured rack up hospital costs for the rest of us ignores that emergency rooms are required to treat those who can’t pay, which is government, not market, intervention.

** Please do not poison the well.

Government Healthcare is Bad for Fat People


Read the links on this page.

While employers can currently establish plans that incentivize weight loss, it’s not illegal and/or will not cause your taxes to go up to decide not to participate in such programs. Additionally, there is some measure of direct voting by employees — complaining about the plan, leaving the business to work elsewhere, not participating in the plan — that is much closer to the decisionmaker in the process and could ostensibly much more quickly repeal a plan decision than waiting for a large enough group of people to be voted in who commit to weeding out problems in legislation, which can take at its quickest years, and at its slowest, never (as the problems become too deeply institutionalized).

If the government forces everyone to buy private or public plans, then encourages (through subsidies to private plans, or directly in public plans) plans that create initiatives or penalties based on weight, then there is no escape. Even if it’s just verbal encouragement, it gives employers the sense that they can discriminate against unpopular groups and lower their own costs without the possibility of losing an employee that is a member of an unpopular group, since even if that employee was to leave, chances are the same discriminatory initiatives would be in place wherever else they’d choose to seek employment.

The choice to participate in health care should not be forced. Choice is sometimes the last check one has on a virtually universal discriminatory and unethical system with deeply rooted institutional bias. The ability to choose to opt out of healthcare, to have the choice not to participate, is essential. Those who want to argue about public costs are only doing so in the context of the current healthcare framework under which we suffer: though the nature of insurance re: pooling risks does mean that some will pay in and never take out as much as they pay in, while others will take out more than they pay in, it doesn’t mean that anyone’s health is technically anyone else’s business. That’s just the nature of insurance.

This would not be the case if health decisions and health behaviors and being a member of an unpopular health class literally become public business. By definition. One would have to completely trust the government not to fall in with popular Healthist sentiments that have a tendency to put a good deal of the blame for unaffordability and poor public health on fat people. In my humble opinion, placing such immense trust in a fickle, by nature ever-changing, populist, and power-hungry entity is foolish.

Those who are interested in freedom from institutionalized discrimination should always be concerned when choices are taken away, rather than offered up. The way to fight discrimination is to open doors, not close them. Many pro-fat activists are in favor of universal healthcare because they believe it will force insurers to cover those who are currently not covered, or allow the government to provide a plan that will cover them (they currently already have this power, by the way). But this is an example of closing doors, not opening them. Fatphobia is still out there, and it runs rampant in government — and is no less present in Progressive political circles than any other circle. If fat people can be used as scapegoats to save money in what is sure to be a very expensive system (TNSTAAFL*), that is what is going to happen.

And that is already what is happening, as the healthcare bills currently being proposed are overrunning their cost goals, even taking into consideration that every gimmicky scheme to shift money around has been called upon in order to make the bills look less expensive than they already are (frontloading payins, backloading payouts, political promises of savings that won’t be kept, etc). Since the government doesn’t have to worry about doing anything scientifically sound if their electorate cares more about money than science, they’ll pick groups to discriminate against (or promote discrimination against) re: insurance in the order that these groups are medically unpopular. Fat people and smokers are, without a doubt, the top of that list.

Universal or forced coverage is not good for fat people. What you gain in terms of being technically covered you will lose in the inevitable discrimination, higher costs, public shaming, fat hate and the wider spread of fat hate and focus on fat people as a “problem,” and so on.

Besides, I (and many others) know how to really lower costs, so that even groups that insurers put in a higher rate category would be able to afford insurance. But to lower costs would require less regulation, less control, more choices for individuals to buy care…in other words, a free market injection in a hopelessly overregulated industry. I’m certain that the cost of a plan for a “fit” family of four in Massachusetts currently would be the maximum of what you’d see for a non-“fit” family of four in a freer market.

The answer to the problem of fat people not being covered (or covered affordably) does not lie in handing over our fates to politicians and bureaucrats who are the ultimate barometer of public whims and misinformation.

If you have any questions, here is a bit of reading.

Do not give the public the ability to vote on your private health matters: No Fat People in Concentration Camps

Socialized medicine leads to more discrimination, higher costs, and fewer choices: Universal Healthcare and Fat

We should be free to do what we want, as long as that liberty doesn’t infringe on the liberty of others: Libertarians and Obesity, Take Two

A chain of back-of-the-envelope logic whereby involved government in healthcare in our current climate leads to dire consequences for fat people: Eliminate Fat People

Involving government in healthcare in our fatphobic environment can lead, and has led, to the breaking up of families. Additionally, it could lead to the state-sponsored eradication of fat children, by any means necessary: The Tide of Hate Rises

You should never give someone else the ability to make choices about your body: When Your Body is No Longer Yours

The state is not an objective third party with no profit motive, and will not operate as such in the distribution of health care: Why Universal Healthcare Should Be Opposed by Fat Activists

Junk science and fat unpopularity = the legislation of thinness: Universal Healthcare is Not Automatically Fat-Friendly

The Food Police are coming: “Lock-in” the Fatty Fat Fats

*There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Quick Hit: Mika Brzezinski Thinks Americans too Fat, Answer – Higher Taxes

Here’s a quick hit (h/t NewsBusters.org):

Food Fight: MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski Advocates Tax on Meat, Soft Drinks, and People Who Consume Them

SCARBOROUGH: Now when we say ‘sugar,’ do you mean coke, cocaine, or is that code for sugar with Paterson, or is it actual sugar?

BRZEZINSKI: [ignoring Joe, continuing to read] “In view of our obesity epidemic and the extra burden it places on our health care system – not to mention the problems it causes on a crowded New York subway when your neighbor can’t fit into a single seat – it is a reasonable proposal.” He goes on now to talk about red meat.  And you all need to think about this.


BRZEZINSKI: No, people who want us not to just be an obese, sick country.  I’m going to read one more, Peter Singer again, Professor says –

That’s right, you disgusting fat pigs that are causing all the traffic problems (cuz, yanno, overcrowding isn’t due to bad scheduling or antiquated trains and lines…it’s due to your FAT!) should be taxed in order to shift the health care costs you will definitely, beyond-a-doubt based-on-scienterrific-studies incur at MY skinny-assed expense! (btw, not that Peter Singer doesn’t have very particular political views, no, he’s a very objective source on this).

More headbashing gold:

SCARBOROUGH: Don’t get mad. I can stay up for actually 20 hours consistently, but the thing is I haven’t had a great diet my whole life. Okay, I’ve probably eaten more Big Macs than most human beings alive, and I’m serious about it. But at the same time, I lead an active lifestyle. My blood pressure is 120 over 80. My cholesterol is fine. They’ve done one of those scans. I have no plaque. I want to live that way. That’s up to me.

BRZEZINSKI: I’m glad for you. This isn’t about you.

SCARBOROUGH: That’s up to Americans.

BRZEZINSKI: Look at America.

SCARBOROUGH: That’s the problem, Mika. It’s not about you. You want to project your values on everybody else. We don’t want to live like you. We think you have serious issues with how you treat your children. I want my children to eat a Big Mac. I want my children to have pizza. Now, afterwards, I’m going to take them outside, and I’m going to run them, and they’re going to be healthy.

BRZEZINSKI: So just run it off, and the calories will burn, and there won’t be plaque building up in their heart.

Yes, Mika. You obviously have a greater understanding of the science behind this than the average American you want to order around. :: cough ::

BRZEZINSKI: It’s not about you eating one, Willie.  It’s about America eating way too much and all the things they shouldn’t be eating and America being completely obese. And us pretending –

SCARBOROUGH: America, meet your new nanny, Mika Brzezinski.

BRZEZINSKI: – because it’s not P.C. to say you’re fat.  Fat and unhealthy.

SERWER: Tofu, bean curd, that’s where we end up.  That’s okay.

SCARBOROUGH: In Mika’s world, we end up eating tofu and bean curd.

BRZEZINSKI: No, in my world, we actually talk about what we’re putting in our bodies.

Yes. As if no one talks about what we eat ad nauseum now. No. There aren’t thousands of diet plans, food plans, nutritionists, dieticians, medical researchers, and lobbies that talk about food as a moral, financial, and health issue every fucking day. Nope. You’re right. Doesn’t exist. We need to talk about it MORE!

And the last, but not least, of the bigoted statements made by this ignoramus:

SCARBOROUGH: We know that you are trying to foist a nanny state on the rest of us.

BRZEZINSKI: All I want you to pay a little more so I don’t have to pay for your big butts, okay?

That’s fine. Though don’t look to my pocketbook the next time you tear an ACL working off that naughty, naughty pizza.
EDIT: I just wanted to note that the comments are pretty fat-positive, though this isn’t a blog that necessarily aligns itself with FA. It just typically holds the belief that your body is your business.

No Fat People in Concentration Camps

Oh, how many times us fat activists have seen trotted out this tired platitude:

“Don’t you know, there were no fat people in concentration camps?”

It’s a brilliantly ignorant phrase, at once loaded with misconceptions about fat and about the nature of concentration camps, all while insulting the experience of those who actually had to survive, I dunno, war and genocide and stuff.

As such, I think it’s beneath us to really take it on in a serious manner, debunk, and explain where the misconceptions have taken root. Really, it’s about as well-thought out as the playground curse, “Well you wouldn’t be so fat if you were dead, fatty!” …Well, no kidding. ‘Cuz I’d be dead. Which means eventually a skeleton. Which has no fat.

Usually it’s only the supremely ignorant, or the supremely hateful, who would dare unleash the “no fat people in concentration camps” platitude. A Temporary Lapse of Reason recently posted on a New Zealand doctor who apparently teaches this platitude to his students. (I wonder, does he ever have any students who are fresh from a course on the human metabolism take him to task when he brings this up?)

I think it’s important at this point to remember one important thing, that’s often lost on the non-academic media: there are crackpots, who are so entrenched in some kind of bias that it skews their whole perception of their research and academic goals, all throughout academia. I come from a background of math and physics. At one point in time I was very interested in theoretical physics, and learned a lot of various theoretical physicists (I’m still quite interested, though I come from a different field at this point — complexity theory). I discovered that there was a different theory for the universe for every day of the week, color of the rainbow, flavor of ice cream, and so forth. And that many very serious, life-long academics, were entrenched in theories which, on their face, were a house of cards.

In mathematics it is the same way, though you’d think it would be the field least yielding to crackpots (and it might very well be, but that still doesn’t mean it is entirely free of them). There are many mathematicians so entrenched in expressing ideas using one particular branch of mathematics, that when they encounter these ideas more cleanly and intuitively expressed via different methods, they reject the different methodology all together. These people, who have to prove thousands of statements, using mathematical logic, before they are granted a PhD, can entertain irrational impulses in their professional lives.

Imagine then, a field that is much less precise, much more opaque, much more influenced by politics (and vice versa), much less known than mathematics and physics. It would stand to reason that there would be many more wrong-headed and irrational life-long academics. That is, life-long academics from prestigious places who cling to irrational ideas and theories, because they can bear to think out of the tired, dusty box in which they learned and in which they’ve spent the better part of their life researching within? These people, even when encountering a preponderance of counterexamples to their claim, have the ability to weave in and out of rationality, at once making grandiose, easily disproven claims, and using the force of their dusty “experience” to lend credibility (this is a fallacy of logic called “argument from authority.”).

Getting back on topi, it’s therefore not important to debunk the heath claims made by this so-called doctor — we’ve done it handily, many times before. And, quite frankly, he’s a crackpot if he would ever state such irrational platitudes in the first place. His hate, sense of superiority, and disgust is showing, worn proudly on his sleeve. Through the lens of his hate and bias, his statements might make some kind of sense (and certainly do to the writer of the article, who sadly takes him seriously). But without that lens? Even on their face, to someone who knows nothing about the science of the human metabolism and genetics, they’re utterly ridiculous.

But that doesn’t mean they’re not dangerous. Sometimes, insulated by the Fatosphere, we forgot what the average politician likely believes about fat people.

Quoted from A Temporary Lapse of Reason:

But Dr BirkBeck’s desire to take ‘further steps’, to ‘make people realize’, shame people, legislate their bodies, medicate, mutilate, or otherwise impel people into his ideal of what is good for them is FAR from uncommon. And it all stems from the root of moral superiority that says ‘I know what’s best for you’.

This is such an important distinction to make. As it stands, if you are a fat person in New Zealand, Dr Birkbeck’s words are just words. If you don’t like him, he doesn’t have to be your doctor. However, his words can become dangerous if it is possible to legislate one’s health (I’m not sure if this is currently the case in NZ).

Then all it takes is for one demagogue-doctor to sway some committee comprised of the majority party in power, and suddenly a fat person finds that they are disallowed from obtaining health insurance, or penalized/taxed for their fat, or given an ultimatum to lose weight or be financially penalized at tax time, etc. The legislature can even exonerate itself in the eyes of the non-fat and self-loathing fat (the majority of voters, to be sure) by claiming the extra money from the fatties will be going towards “programs” to “help them” lose the required weight.

Of course, we all know such programs don’t work in the long term (or even short term, looking at some examples from the UK), and what you’ll end up with is a fat tax and useless programs set up to torture fat people. Fat people will be tortured (and possibly mutilated via ‘discounted’ WLS, when the Bunsen Burner weight loss programs don’t work), and will have to foot the bill for their torture.

Dr. Birkbeck, I recognize your methodology, but it hasn’t been in practice for about 80 years or so…

This is another reason why it is vital to make sure that no body of people has the power to legislate your health, and at the very least you have the option to opt-out without financial penalties, the non-payment which could land you in prison. It should never get to the point where some people are fined or otherwise for simply existing as they are. And fat people, by virtue of their existence, would be fined/taxed by a government if any government believed it would be popular to do so. As long as they can get the votes they mean and bring in more revenue, what do they care?

Given our current culture’s entirely irrational views on health, it would be the worst possible thing to get government involved in the legislation of health. It would take a single Dr. Birkbeck to sway some subcommittee regulating the distribution of healthcare that cutting fat people out of the system, and making them pay for it besides, would be a boon to their balance sheet, and it’s all over.

It’s vital to preserve competition in the field of healthcare, just as competition is a boon to any industry. That way people can still vote with their dollars on a much more grassroots, individual manner, that could have the power to see fail one healthcare company overnight, and rise a new, better company in the morning. Actual voting will not give an individual this kind of power over their healthcare, not by far. An individual vote for a politician is so far displaced from the choices those politicians might make about healthcare, there’s no way effective change could occur in the time it would need to occur. The idea that voting for a particular politician will give you more power over your own healthcare than currently exists, is a fantasy, and a dangerous one.

The last thing I, as a fat activist want, is the current fatphobic culture to have the majority vote over my private health matters and, as a consequence, fundamental way of life (since I would be forced to become a marionette to their anti-scientific whims by virtue of my fat). What we have in the US now, and in every other country that hasn’t adopted a government-run healthcare monopoly, is not ideal. There should be far less regulations, restrictions, and tax fiddle-faddling with healthcare as it stands, so that the average person might have a chance of actually affording basic care out-of-pocket (like most people can for auto-insurance).

But that’s not the point. As many prominent economists have noted, it is nearly always a worse idea to move away from greater competition than towards. When you adopt a planned economy, you become a planned citizen. And a planned fat person, in our current culture, and certainly as well detailed by the words of Dr. Birkbeck, is a nonexistent fat person.

Jay Severin Rails Against MA Anti-Obesity Laws

Jay Severin of 96.9 FM WTKK has been outspoken against the state of Massachusetts and its new anti-obesity campaign put forth by Governor Deval Patrick (D).

Though Jay’s personal views on obesity aren’t fat-friendly by any means, Jay illustrates that one does not have to think well of obesity to fight for the right of individuals not to have their civil rights eroded or taken away entirely because of how much they weigh.

The best political friends of fat people are libertarians, and others who believe in a hard and low limit to government size and power.

You don’t have to be in Massachusetts to listen to Jay. He’s on 3pm – 7pm EST every weekday. Listen online at wtkk.com.

Michael Graham of WTKK has also spoken out for body autonomy and against these intrusive new regulations. Here’s a great quote from his recent blog post (though I don’t agree that “kids eat too much and exercise too little, the point is sound), “Massachusetts: The Fat is in Our Heads“:

Does anyone think the overweight children of the Commonwealth will drop so much as a Whoopee Pie–much less a pound–from Patrick’s efforts? Of course not. Patrick will talk, legislators will vote, taxpayers will foot the bill…and our kids will still eat too much and exercise too little.

Meanwhile, as I write in the Boston Herald today, there’s a very simple action Beacon Hill could take today that would have an immediate, positive impact on our kids. Allow more charter schools.  But Gov. Patrick won’t. Even though a new study proves charter schools outperform everything else, our politicians oppose their expansion to serve more kids.

Fat people, libertarians are the only party out there that doesn’t think we should “do something” about obesity. It’s time to get back to our roots, and embrace libertarianism with gusto, as a vehicle to protect our civil rights.

EDIT: Just to reiterate, I do *not* agree with Jay Severin’s personal attitude regarding fat, especially fat women. In fact, just about five minutes ago he said that shockingly thin models were good role models for women and that our society was very sadly becoming more accepting of fat “bottoms” on women. He also said that he spoke for all men. lol!