Sunday, October 01, 2006

Big Brother Is Weight Watching

"Big Brother," "Orwellian," "Nanny state"--all those words were on the lips of New Yorkers this week after the local Board of Health proposed banning most so-called trans fats from the city's more than 20,000 eateries. The targeted fatty acids are produced when vegetable oil is solidified with hydrogen--for frying foods or making baked goods, among other things. They can raise levels of "bad" cholesterol. Even health officials can't honestly claim that trans fats are a major cause of heart and artery problems. They are the demon du jour, however, and the overlords of New York seem bent on saving us from them.

If the current proposal actually becomes law, every outlet from the fanciest restaurant to the smallest pizza parlor will have 18 months to find substitutes for trans fat-producing hydrogenated oils. These oils figure in thousands of recipes, in part because they produce familiar good tastes and textures but also because the oils don't get rancid quickly.

Once the city fathers are done telling restaurants what they can serve, though, who is to say that they won't come after us by a more direct route? The idea is not that far-fetched. Early this year, the city quietly added diabetes, a chronic, noninfectious condition, to a list of communicable diseases that it tracks, such as syphilis.

Now, when labs detect a high blood-sugar level in a sample, they are required by law to report that finding to officials. If you thought the results of a diabetes test were between you and your doctor, think again. The city records the fact that you, personally, have developed diabetes, and authorities are empowered to monitor your treatment and even to conduct what it calls "interventions." Perhaps you will soon get a knock on the door from a city worker wanting to know if you are sticking to your prescribed regimen for dealing with a host of chronic conditions.

Undeniably New York, like other cities, is worried about the cost--in health-care bills and social problems--of an explosion of diabetes cases, which are often linked to obesity. Authorities are casting about for ways to make potential patients look after themselves. This month, Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed a formal report from a city commission suggesting that New York consider offering money to poor people who make regular visits to a doctor, as an incentive for them to stay healthy.

At least no one would be forced to take the money, and the proposal has the whiff of a market solution. The market is at least no worse at getting people to do things than government is. If we ask for "health food"--organic, low in sodium, high in antioxidants, whatever--someone will make it. If manufacturers tout their food as healthier, somebody will buy it.

The trouble is that few foods are healthy if you eat too much of them. The label "no cholesterol" or "low fat" is not the ticket to dietary success that many of us want to believe. The best way to eat healthy is to count calories. But reducing one's intake of trans fats is so much easier--especially if no one is allowed to serve them--that it's tempting for everyone, including consumer health groups, to focus on this sort of fad and not on the boring old adage about doing everything in moderation.

Yet calorie counting has stood the test of time. A sad sidebar to the New York story is that when health activists targeted saturated fats in the 1980s, food purveyors replaced things like beef tallow with vegetable oils, and everybody cheered. Who knew that today, hydrogenated oils and their trans fats would be labeled toxic killers?


U.S. food advertisements to be officially censored

Concerned that a steady diet of TV ads is putting too many pounds on American children, the Federal Communications Commission plans to study links between the ads, viewing habits and the rise of childhood obesity. "Small children can't weed out the marketing messages from their favorite shows," FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said Wednesday at a news conference. "Especially when the marketing campaigns feature favorite TV characters like SpongeBob or Scooby-Doo." Martin cited reports showing the average child watches 2 to 4 hours of TV per day and views about 40,000 TV ads every year, most of them for cereal, candy, toys and fast food.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., said he urged the commission to form the task force, which will include FCC officials, members of the food, television and advertising industries, along with consumer advocacy groups and health experts. "Judging by the sheer volume of media and advertising that children consume on a daily basis, and given alarming trends in childhood obesity, we're facing a public health problem that will only get worse unless we take action," Brownback said. The task force will begin meeting early next year and issue a report with recommendations on how industry and media can work to reduce the childhood obesity rate.

Earlier this month, the Institute of Medicine found that one-third of American children are either obese or at risk for becoming obese. At the same time, American companies spend about $15 billion a year marketing and advertising to children under age 12. Some children's advocacy groups have called for a ban on junk food marketing to children, but Brownback and Martin said they want to reach common ground with advertisers instead of creating new regulations. "If we start down the road of saying we're going to limit everything and we're going to do it with a regulatory regime, I think you get everybody in a quick adversarial relationship," Brownback said. He said a number of food companies have indicated they want to work with government to help address the issue, though none attended the press conference Wednesday. "We urge their participation and we would love to have them participate in the process," Brownback said.

Groups already involved with the task force include the Sesame Workshop, the Walt Disney Co., and the Parents Television Council, a conservative media-watchdog group.



Just some problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.


1 comment:

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