According to a widely circulated op-ed in the New York Times by Paul Campos, a law professor at the University of Colorado with whom I don’t believe I have ever managed to agree on anything, our “fear” of fat — namely, epidemic obesity — is, in a word, absurd. Prof. Campos is the author of a book entitled The Obesity Myth, and has established something of a cottage industry for some time contending that the fuss we make about epidemic obesity is all some government-manufactured conspiracy theory, or a confabulation serving the interests of the weight-loss-pharmaceutical complex.
In this instance, the op-ed was reacting to a meta-analysis, published last week in JAMA, and itself the subject of extensive media attention, indicating that mortality rates go up as obesity gets severe, but that mild obesity and overweight are actually associated with lower overall mortality than so-called “healthy” weight. This study — debunked for important deficiencies by many leading scientists around the country, and with important limitations acknowledged by its own authors — was treated by Prof. Campos as if a third tablet on the summit of Mount Sinai.
We’ll get into the details of the meta-anlysis shortly, but first I’d like to say: Treating science like a ping-pong ball is what’s absurd, and what scares the hell out of me. Treating any one study as if its findings annihilate the gradual, hard-earned accumulation of evidence over decades is absurd, and scares the hell out of me. Iconoclasts who get lots of attention just by refuting the conventional wisdom, and who are occasionally and importantly right, but far more often wrong — are often rather absurd, and scare the hell out of me.
And so does the obesity epidemic.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is at it again. This time, the government-appointed panel is on fat patrol. Its review of the medical literature found that diet and exercise combined with group counseling beat popping a pill when it comes to controlling weight.
For those with short memories, USPSTF is the government panel that in the midst of the health care reform debate had the temerity to suggest the evidence was iffy on the wisdom of mammography for women under 50. Check with your doctor before deciding if an early start to routine breast cancer screening was right for you, they said.
Conservatives had a field day. “We don’t know how far government will go in this bureaucracy,” cried Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who a few months later launched her presidential campaign. “This is how rationing begins,” intoned Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.
When it comes to obesity, though, a little food rationing is just what the doctor ordered, according to the latest from the USPSTF. How one rations matters, however.
“With drugs, when people stop, they gain the weight back,” said David Grossman, a senior investigator at Group Health Research Institute in Seattle and chairman of the 16-member panel that issued the updated guidelines on obesity prevention on Tuesday. “This is a lifestyle problem. If you don’t change your lifestyle, drugs are not likely to provide a long-term solution.”
Michelle Obama wasn’t taking the easy path when she chose the obesity epidemic and childhood obesity in particular as her main cause. Since the late 1970s, the number of people considered obese grew by half and now totals 32 percent of men and 36 percent of women. One in 20 Americans are now considered morbidly obese. By 2030, if nothing is done, those numbers are expected to grow to over 40 percent obese with over 10 percent morbidly so.
Every year food and soft drink marketers spend billions of dollars tempting children with junk, fueling an obesity crisis that’s already reached epidemic proportions.
Why aren’t policymakers stepping in to help protect our kids? In part because food and media companies are successfully using the First Amendment as a shield.
But new research paves the way for government to take action to protect children from junk food marketing, building a strong case to establish that much of this advertising falls outside the scope of First Amendment protection.
The controversy over whether government has the right to regulate food marketing to kids came to a head last summer, after a group of federal agencies proposed a set of voluntary recommendations suggesting how food companies could market to kids more responsibly. Food, entertainment and advertising lobbyists launched a massive campaign to derail the recommendations, arguing that the First Amendment protects industry from any government action involving food marketing to children.
Lots of interesting feedback on my post on sugar regulation. Some of you have accused me of making straw man arguments; others have used straw man arguments to question my post. So let me take a few minutes to be clear about what I was saying. The article I referenced specifically questioned whether sugar should be regulated like alcohol and tobacco.
We regulate alcohol by making it illegal to use it before the age of 21. Period. We regulate alcohol by making businesses get a specific, and often hard-to-get, license to sell it. Where I live, it’s illegal to sell it on Sunday. We don’t regulate alcohol by limiting the amount you can put in a drink. Any bar can make any drink they like, with as much or as little alcohol as they want.
We regulate tobacco by making it illegal to use it before the age of 18. Period. We regulate it by making businesses sell it in specific areas, often hard-to-get at. It’s illegal to put it in vending machines. But we don’t regulate tobacco by limiting the amount you can put in a cigar. Any cigar maker can put as much or as little tobacco in as they want.
So when someone says that they want to regulate sugar like alcohol or tobacco, that’s what I think of. And it was what they meant, according to reports:
Sugar is so toxic it should be controlled like alcohol, according to new report that goes so far as to suggest setting an age limit of 17 years to buy soda pop.