Obesity Rates Double. Let’s Ban Transfat.

by Mark T. Mitchell on February 14, 2011 · 11 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Culture, High & Low,Politics & Power

junk food

According to a story in USA Today, a recent study concludes that obesity rates have doubled world wide over the last thirty years. According to the study

in 1980, about 5% of men and 8% of women worldwide were obese. By 2008, the rates were nearly 10% for men and 14% for women….That means 205 million men and 297 million women weighed in as obese. Another 1.5 billion adults were overweight,

Obesity rates have increased steadily in all but a few of the poorest regions of the world. This does not portend well for disease, especially heart disease which is at least in part brought on by unhealthy weight.

Experts warned the increasing numbers of obese people could lead to a “global tsunami of cardiovascular disease.” Obesity is also linked to higher rates of cancer, diabetes and is estimated to cause about 3 million deaths worldwide every year.

A global tsunami? Clearly we need to get to higher ground. Quick. Unfortunately, it’s hard to move very fast given the added bulk. Of course, heart disease is no laughing matter and thus we should feel some sense of relief to learn that another study has found that blood pressure and cholesterol rates have actually decreased in the U.S. and Canada. Ah, but here’s the kicker. The decrease is due to medications widely available in these countries. Have we figured out how to have our cake (a very big one) and eat it too? Perhaps, but as our waistlines expand and as we simultaneously demand medications to prevent the naturally occurring effects of obesity, the demands on our health care system will continue to increase. This will result in rising prices as demand for treatment balloons with our national weight. Increasing prices will price some people out of the market, but surely accessible health care is a human right. Doesn’t the Constitution say something about that? Anyway, if it doesn’t it should.

This situation has called forth two predictable responses: 1) a push to reduce the costs of health care by putting the system in the hands of health care bureaucrats who will invariably find that some form of rationing is necessary to control costs, and 2) a concerted effort to enact laws to regulate what we eat in an effort to reduce obesity levels. Indeed, the first option is at least part of what must happen if health care is nationalized and burgeoning costs kept under control, and the second is proposed by one of the authors of the obesity study who suggests that

national measures like reducing salt content in prepared foods or banning transfats could make a big dent in lowering blood pressure and cholesterol rates.

Of course, blood pressure and cholesterol rates are currently being controlled by medications; however, a better diet would mean a reduction in medication, which would relieve some of the burden on the health care system. So let’s pass some laws (and empower a handful of government agencies) to reduce salt and ban transfats. Sounds like a simple solution to an obvious problem.

When a crisis looms, even if it is completely self-caused, the government is only too willing to insert itself. The pretense is always some form of “it’s for your own good” but one result will always be increased government power and a steady erosion of individual freedom. The ball is clearly in motion. The more our bodies continue to swell the greater pressure there will be for the government to address this crisis of obesity that, in turn, contributes to the spiraling costs of health care. If we continue to demand both our junk food and access to affordable health care, we shouldn’t be surprised if something (other than our pants) breaks. Strain on the system will invite increased government control, and that horse is already well out of the barn.

The alternatives to government control of health care and our diets seems pretty straight-forward. On the one hand, we can stop expecting accessible and affordable health care even as we continue to eat the junk that is making us sick. Most people don’t have the stomach for that kind of reckless abandon without a safety net. On the other hand, we can revive that old virtue of self-control. Among other things, self-control undercuts the justification (however wrong-headed) for government control. Freedom, it seems, is not free. It is only sustainable when it is characterized by self-restraint. If we continue reaching for the Twinkie, we shouldn’t be surprised to find a government bureaucrat on the other end.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Steven V Deal February 14, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Unfortunately, the link between personal behavior and its consequences has been cut. With insurance, the healthcare non-system has made indemnity a requirement of solvency. Either our policies or taxpayers pick up the tab. So what’s the big deal? Have a couple dozen donuts.

avatar Anonymous February 14, 2011 at 6:18 pm

“On the other hand, we can revive that old virtue of self-control.” Examples, please!

avatar Mark T. Mitchell February 14, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Examples? It’s not that hard: Skip dessert. Walk rather than ride. Buy fruit rather than cookies. All of these are examples of self-control assuming we crave dessert, an easy ride, and cookies over apples.
Perhaps I’m not understanding your question, since my answer seems so painfully obvious.

avatar Mark T. Mitchell February 14, 2011 at 7:57 pm

Examples? It’s not that hard: Skip dessert. Walk rather than ride. Buy fruit rather than cookies. All of these are examples of self-control assuming we crave dessert, an easy ride, and cookies over apples.
Perhaps I’m not understanding your question, since my answer seems so painfully obvious.

avatar Mark T. Mitchell February 14, 2011 at 7:57 pm

Examples? It’s not that hard: Skip dessert. Walk rather than ride. Buy fruit rather than cookies. All of these are examples of self-control assuming we crave dessert, an easy ride, and cookies over apples.
Perhaps I’m not understanding your question, since my answer seems so painfully obvious.

avatar stephen February 15, 2011 at 7:45 am

the social democratic project began by liberating us from responsibility to others. our parents, our neighbors, it is the governments job to care for them when they are out of work or too old to care for themselves. the second movement is liberating us from responsibility to ourselves. the beauty is that the implicit rationale becomes reality. social security implicitly gives the government responsibility for the elderly, though at the time, your average citizen would have disagreed. Now, by and large, the responsibility has transferred in the consciousness of modern people. Similarly today, the implicit rationale for seat belt laws, transfat laws, etc, is that people are not responsible for themselves, yet few would agree.

we are left in complete isolation, divided from others, divided from ourselves, in a state of sheer Cartesian ecstasy. funny how the concrete social situation of the first modern philosopher produced a theoretical division that, when applied to modern economic and political realities brought western humanity back to that same concrete social situation. off we go to the solitary cabin with Descartes, the place where radical scepticism becomes reality!

avatar Christopher White February 15, 2011 at 9:31 pm

And not a word about the fast food companies advertising aimed at getting 5 year olds to associate fatty foods with love and toys. Nor the subsidies for agribusiness and biotech companies. These issues are not simply about or between US (individuals making good or less good decisions about our lives) and The Gummint (nanny obsessed bureaucrats intent on micromanaging our lives). There’s also The Private Sector (which includes transnational corporations that might be more intent on micromanaging our lives than government ever thought of being).

avatar Dutchboy February 16, 2011 at 7:08 pm

Trans-fats are food additives that have more in common with plastics than food. Adding them to food is basically poisoning.

avatar Matthew February 22, 2011 at 12:26 am

“Freedom, it seems, is not free. It is only sustainable when it is characterized by self-restraint.”–Mark T. Mitchell

I agree with this quote but also agree with Christopher White’s post. During college football season I watch a lot more television than the rest of the year It can’t be a coincidence that I also start wanting to go to a restaurant chain and have a big platter their food. I know I’m being manipulated even while I suggest to my wife that we take the kids to the nearest fast food restaurant for a quick dinner during halftime.

Almost all discussions I’ve ever had about how to improve society boil down to, “how do you get millions of people to choose to do what’s right?”, or as my old friend Rick always said, “just get them want to stop most of the worst stuff.” This doesn’t seem like the central question about the relationship between government and the individual and corporations but it seems important.

avatar Charlotte February 24, 2011 at 12:52 pm

How do we achieve the self-control? The problem with ideals is that you can’t just say, “Well, this would be the best thing to do, so do it.” Everyone already knows (well, perhaps that’s not true; people like to blame their problems on health problems like they have no control), to some extent, that simply changing their behavior will result in better health. It’s almost as common, and as hopeless, to hear, “I’m trying to lose weight,” as, “I’m trying to stop smoking.” You know, most of the time, in a week, that person will be back to their old habits. I agree that self-control is the ideal. Come on, people, take care of yourselves. But I don’t understand how if that isn’t currently happening, even though it’s a clear solution, we can just shrug our shoulders and say keep trying? There’s a problem, and just saying “self-control” to people isn’t the solution — or we wouldn’t have the problem.

I’m not really sure how I feel about banning stuff. I don’t feel all that opposed to it, but at the same time, that’s only in certain situations and I understand that’s a problem. Still, though, not only is it idealistic to expect people to make choices they can’t seem to, but I also agree with Matthew — there are subtle ways of getting to us that advertisers understand and play on. It’s not just saying no thank you to a donut — it’s much more difficult than that. Our entire culture lends itself to sitting around and eating food that is really bad for you. People react differently when choices are simply presented in a different way. For example, in school lunch rooms, putting the fruit at eye level ensures a lot more of it is eaten. In a way, that’s messing with freedom, right? I mean, if you know putting fruit here will cause people to eat more of it, then you’re manipulating the outcome. But, with that in mind, purposely not putting fruit there, really, arranging the food in any fashion, will effect what people choose to eat. So there is power there whether we want it or not. Shouldn’t we harness it for good? Shouldn’t it be made easier to make healthier choices? Either way, our culture, and what we’re surrounded with, influences the choices we make. If we’re constantly being barraged by things that suggest bad choices, is it really that terrible for somebody to step in and arrange things so that we’re more likely to make good ones? I understand self-control is important, but until I see a way for it to be taught so that we don’t have these problem, it makes sense for at least some government intervention. Especially since birds of a certain weight tend to flock together — we are influenced by the behavior of those who surround us and therefore helping one person helps others, helping many helps a lot. There are so many unconscious factors that it is such a battle to fight these off, so much so that people have just given up.

Also, I’d like to point out how important it is I think for people to understand how our desires can be manipulated. I don’t think it’s any easier to control, but I think it gives people a certain power. If parents buy equal amounts of healthy foods and junk foods and keep them both in the pantry, but then learn that placing the healthy foods in obvious areas, or on display, while the junk is tucked away, will effect what their child eats, then I feel they should do it. But nobody should be tricked into this. Displays of food could even say, “This food has been arranged in such a way that the healthiest foods are the easiest for you to access.” I’m not for people being secretly manipulated — as they currently are with much advertising, but for people to understand the huge influence and try to play off of that. Maybe I’m a bad person to speak about self-control, as I have very little, but rather than continue to try something that isn’t working (“Well, THIS time I won’t spend a bazillion dollars on make-up,”) I give trustworthy, and smart, family members my credit cards to keep for me until I need them for something important — their discretion, but I trust ‘em. It works wonders on my debt. And, yeah, it’s embarrassing to think that I’m that bad at controlling myself, but hey, trying different self-control tactics for a year just lands me in a mountain of debt. Admitting, I can’t seem to control this right now, and finding a situation in which I cannot help but make the right choice makes it so I make the right choice. But, I’m also in complete control of the situation. I really think a similar thing with health and food wouldn’t be bad. Give people the freedom to make whatever choice the want, but openly make it far easier to make a good one.

avatar MBD February 25, 2011 at 1:39 pm

Before accepting claims of historical changes in obesity rates, one must take care that the same standard is being applied to all periods. If I recall correctly, the NIH redefined the standards based on BMI in the late 1990′s and, under the new standards, a significantly larger portion of the population fell into the various levels of obesity. Any comparison of statistics of the population prior to the change to the population after the change must correct for the changed standards.

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