Monday, June 04, 2007

Antagonism to a life-prolonging product

First they came for the pregnant women, and I did not speak out because I was not a pregnant woman . . . After Friday's dishonest attempt to tell pregnant women not to drink a drop comes news of more alcophobic idiocy. From next year, all drinks are to carry health warnings - "voluntarily", but if anybody refuses to do as they're told, the Government will make it the law.

Labels will spell out how many units of alcohol the drink contains, official guidelines about how much (ie, little) to drink, and "advice" such as "Drink responsibly" and "Know your limits". Caroline Flint, the Public Health Minister, says they are "about helping people to make the right choice". Which, of course, is always not to have another drink.

If Ms Flint seriously believes that those on a binge will study labels to "calculate at a glance whether they are staying within sensible drinking guildelines", she should get out more (preferably not in any pub I might use). But these seemingly pointless moves do matter, as signs of the creeping advance of what is called "the new politics of behaviour". As with all Newspeak, "public health" here means the opposite - policing our personal habits.

Many women have understandably objected to the Department of Health's revised advice which, unsupported by any medical evidence, treats them as hormone slaves who cannot be trusted to have a drink without falling down the slippery slope and drowning their unborn in booze. But pregnant tipplers are only the, er, thin edge of the wedge, singled out as a vulnerable and health-conscious group on whom to experiment.

The guidelines about how many alcohol units the rest of us can drink are similarly unscientific and arbitrary. The advice on those labels will be that men should drink no more than 3-4 units a day (one pint of strong lager or best bitter = 3), women no more than 2-3 units (a small glass of wine = 2). I often drink more than that and, according to the BBC, so do more than seven million others. The authorities want to teach all seven million a lesson. We are all pregnant now.

Ms Flint generously says: "There is no reason why you or I should not be able to enjoy alcohol safely and healthily" (Doesn't that sound like fun?). But no doubt they would like to expand the guidleines to cover many of the errant millions: "Avoid alcohol if pregnant; if aged 18-25; if standing in a crowded pub; if watching football, on holiday, or after midnight; if wearing short skirts or tattoos; if you've already had some."

Time, ladies and gents, to tell the alcocops where to stick their labels. "Drink responsibly"? For adults that should mean "as you choose, so long as you take responsibility". "Know your limits"? That is one piece of advice the public health zealots would do well to swallow themselves.


When Totalitarianism Comes to America, It Will Come Wrapped in a Whole-Grain, Low-Sodium, Decaffeinated, Re-Usable, Non-Carbon-Footprint Wrapper

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is sponsoring more food totalitarianism for the purpose of suitably herding the kiddies in their daily food round-ups in public schools. An Institute of Medicine committee - set up at the behest of congress - is proposing strict standards for all foods available in the government's daily internment camps.

Ayn Rand or George Orwell couldn't have fictionalized it any better. The Committee for Food Control, as we'll call it, is proposing that food and beverages be individually categorized into defined "tiers." The committee will collectively determine what food and beverages belong in either Tier 1 or Tier 2. Each tier of food and beverage items will come with varying availability according to the time of day and/or the child's grade level.

Tier 1 snacks contain no more than 200 calories per portion, and entr‚e items that could be sold … la carte do not exceed calorie limits on comparable school lunch program items. Tier 1 items have no more than 200 milligrams of sodium per snack portion or 480 milligrams per … la carte entr‚e item. They contain no more than 35 percent of total calories from fat; less than 10 percent of total calories from saturated fats; no trans fats; and no caffeine except in naturally occurring trace amounts. They also contain no more than 35 percent of calories from total sugars; exceptions to this guideline are flavored milk, which may contain up to 22 grams of sugars per 8-ounce serving, and yogurt, which should not exceed 30 grams of sugars per 8-ounce portion.

Got that? This means that yogurt with the inexcusable "fruit-on-the-bottom" will likely exceed the sugar limit and thus be tossed into the "less healthy" Tier 2. In fact, we're told that Tier 1 foods include stuff like carrot sticks, whole-grain, low-sugar cereals, whole fruit, skim or soy milk, and raisins. There would be a cap on juices because of their calorie-laden, sugary nature - 8 ounces for high school kids and 4 ounces for middle and elementary school students.

Tier 2 foods are the borderline sinful items - stuff like low-sodium whole-wheat crackers, caffeine-free diet soda, and seltzer water. These food items can only be made available after school hours and must conform to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Sports drinks, like Powerade or Gatorade, may only be ingested when the child has participated in "one or more hours of vigorous activity." That one ought to make for some great union jobs in providing for oversight and enforcement.

These standards will be applied to food and beverages sold on school grounds, including vending machines; … la carte cafeteria items; and "other foods and drinks that are available outside of - and therefore compete with - federally reimbursable school meals, which already must conform to some nutrition guidelines."

The criticism here is obvious. For starters, there is no room in a free society for lifestyle decrees of this nature - the government has overstepped its boundaries when it extends its coercive powers into the realm of the family and strives to regulate individual human eating habits. An unconstitutional action, yes. But even more so, it's preposterous to think that any group of people can be empowered to determine what kind of nutritional substance (or lack thereof) you can or can't put into your child's body. This proposed esophageal terrorism on the part of big government - under the pretext of making us all healthier - is indeed invasive and controlling enough to justify the term "food totalitarianism."

In reality, in order to enjoy good health and clean eating individuals do not need to categorize all foods as strictly "bad" or "good." They need to balance the healthy foods with the less healthy and moderate their overall diet so that, in total, their bodies are receiving a net advantage of solid, nutritional foods. Self-moderation on the part of the individual eventually brings on more knowledge, better decision-making, and cleaner eating habits. Taking the road from being a sloppy eater who subsists on fast food, sweet stuff, and highly-processed foods toward a life of clean eating is typically not a forced sprint; it is a voluntary walk along the path of knowledge when one strives for personal betterment through enhanced nutritional habits.

Another critique - that complements the comments above - is the government's "one-size-fits-all" proposal. The notion that what is good or bad for one person is necessarily the same for all others is collectivist in its foundation as well as scientifically unsound. Our bodies are so supremely individualistic that no group of us will achieve the same results from a given form of exercise or food program. As for children, there are many determining factors for diet type. A child's natural body type, growth pattern, metabolism, and level of activity will determine what he should be eating and when he should eat it. A centrally-planned food program with calorie ceilings, rigorously-defined good and bad foods, and shared time management techniques is both physically and mentally unhealthy. Envision the negativity that children would experience when eating becomes forced and authoritarian, and falls under yet another set of harsh rulemaking.

Furthermore, there is no totalitarian decree that can effectively centralize the health and food diets of millions of children via random commands from one gigantic central planning commission - made up of establishment doctors, government agencies, health special interests, busybody citizens, and corporatist food interests - headquartered in Washington D.C. In effect, the establishment of twinkie control and calorie constraints is oppressive and inhumane, and surely, it works against the very foundations of freedom that we should savor and preserve.

True, bad eating habits will lead to grim consequences later in life, if not in the here-and-now. However, one's body is one's own to take care of or not. When an obese person - or any individual for that matter - makes the choice to consume a Big Mac or deep-fried, processed corn dogs as opposed to non-fat yogurt and broccoli, they are choosing food consumption as the way to immediate happiness instead of thinking long-term and putting off instant gratification for future health benefits. Done continuously, it's a bad choice, but it is a choice. Poor choices like these are ripe for criticism and open to persuasion from onlookers, but they can never be taken away from individuals if we value self-ownership and the notion of negative liberty - the absence of physical interference with an individual's person and property - as espoused by classical liberal philosophers.

Looking through the proposal, I guess there's one thing for which we can be "grateful" concerning this latest episode of obesity scaremongering: "The standards apply only to competitive items sold or available on campuses, not to federal school meals or to bagged lunches or snacks that children bring to school."

Then again, before you consider this latest oppressive scheme for food control to be only a problem of food served in the public schools, consider the ramp-up in food totalitarianism that we have been witnessing all around us. One thing for certain is that government central planners are always predictable: given the opportunity, they will collectively assimilate all people everywhere into one big kettle and dole out equitable slices of compulsory recommendations that are backed up by the supremacy of law. This is so that we can all share in the same perceived benefits in the same equal amounts as identified by them - the chosen caretakers. Never mind that what may be beneficial to one man may be detrimental to another man. Blessed be thy caretakers. They are spinning Orwell in his grave.



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.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

Trans fats:

For one summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and the evidence of lasting harm from them is dubious. By taking extreme groups in trans fats intake, some weak association with coronary heart disease has at times been shown in some sub-populations but extreme group studies are inherently at risk of confounding with other factors and are intrinsically of little interest to the average person.


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