For a while there it seemed like the Communists were going to destroy everything. Then it was all going to come down to rap music and the way it unraveled the fabric of society. But the less that happened the more The Terror Threat was certain to murder us all in our beds. And it still might do, but you know the truth: The scariest thing of all is fat.
Oh, and don’t forget about SARS. But yeah, fat. Way scarier.
Americans weigh too much. This article about a recent report on nationwide obesity statistics says so, and so does basically everything else I’ve ever read. The numbers are alarming, with more people becoming obese every year. Something must be done immediately, and heavens! Won’t somebody please think of the children!?
Snarking aside, it is actually reasonable to be concerned about obesity. Research does indeed show that there are clear correlations between poor health and carrying around higher-than-average body fat1, which in turn corresponds with higher weight across general populations2. And when it comes to medical science, we normally can’t ask for more than correlation. Clear causation is very tough to prove in a complex system like the human body.
So I’ll go ahead and agree it’s probably a serious problem. Now, what’s the solution? Because we’ve been panicking about this fat thing for some time now, and it doesn’t seem to be getting better. Seems to me that a person might be able to lose weight, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that people may be another matter altogether.
The article talks about some recommended solutions:
Getting out of it will not be simple, Levi said. The report emphasized the need for a range of measures, including boosting physical activity in schools, encouraging adults to get out and exercise, broadening access to affordable healthy foods and using “pricing strategies” to encourage Americans to make better food choices.
“Until the government takes on the food industry, we’ll continue to see the appalling numbers in this report,” said Kelly D. Brownell, director of Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, who was not involved in the report. “These numbers signal an emergency, and we simply have to have the courage and resolve to do more than what we’re doing.
“Government could start by changing agricultural subsidies, by not making it financially attractive for companies to market unhealthy foods, by placing serious restrictions on marketing to children, and with financial policies that make healthy foods cost less and unhealthy foods cost more.”
See, this kind of doesn’t work for me. I do agree with the point about ending subsidies that no longer make sense3. It’s also no secret that huge food corporations basically run the FDA and wield enormous lobbying power, and I’d be tickled to see that end. They’re just about the last people I want dictating to me what constitutes a healthy diet.
Okay, honestly, it might be a tie. I don’t want the government deciding that for me either. That’s why I’m not encouraged by the idea of “pricing strategies” and government “financial policies that make healthy food cost less and unhealthy foods cost more”. Beyond the simple fact that I think you have every right to eat Twinkies all day without paying fatty fines, more importantly, I do not trust the government to correctly identify healthy foods.
See, the FDA food pyramid’s idea of healthy food is nothing like mine. Neither is the American Heart Association’s. My idea of a healthy diet (for me, not necessarily you, because I have no business telling you what works for you and your body, and there’s every reason to think optimal diet varies from person to person) falls more on the Paleo diet, Weston Price side of things. That means all those processed grains at, you know, the base of the FDA’s pyramid? To me, they’re unhealthy. But the red meat and butter the AHA wants me to avoid are fair game. Delicious, delicious fair game.
And how’s my style of healthy eating working for me? I’m in the “normal” weight range (whatever that means), my HDL is freakishly high: around 125 mg/dL, while my LDL is under 70. My triglycerides are very low. Really, if I weren’t so sick, I’d be remarkably healthy. It would be hard to argue that I have an unhealthy diet, at any rate.
If the government were to step in and start limiting my access to red meat by making sure it was more expensive, and made “heart healthy” Cheerios even cheaper, either my health or my already precarious financial state would suffer greatly. And this same thing holds true for almost any “pricing strategies” the government might try to implement. Don’t dream they’ll stop at candy and soda and CornNuts, because they won’t. Eventually they will block someone from being able to afford something that’s legitimately healthy for them to eat, all while telling us it’s for our own good.
And I still can’t buy raw milk. So there’s that too.
- Of course, I have questions about that correlation that remain unanswered: For instance, could these health risks and obesity both be caused by the same lifestyle factors but not causally linked to each other, meaning that one could reverse the risks without actually losing a pound? Also, how much, if any, of that negative health impact may result from the stress of being continuously told one is disgusting, unhealthy, and/or less valuable than people of a lower weight? Just curious here. ↩
- Though we can probably all point out individuals who are outliers, having an overweight or obese BMI and a healthy–even extremely low– body fat percentage. BMI, the calculation based only on height and weight that we use for these obesity statistics, is a blunt tool at best. ↩
- Although the things I don’t know about farming and the economy of agriculture include, well, everything about farming and the economy of agriculture, as a layman the current subsidies seem really idiotic. ↩