“The nation’s children — indeed, the world’s — are fatter than ever, with no end in sight to their increasing girth, and unless something is done now to reverse this trend, the health costs, already very high, will be astronomical in the not-too-distant future.”
So writes Jane E. Brody in The New York Times, offering a cornucopia of terrifying statistics: “One-fourth of all school-age children are now overweight and one-eighth are obese… [Obesity] accounts for more than 300,000 premature deaths each year and direct health care costs in excess of $61 billion… We are living in what Dr. Kelly Brownell, an obesity expert at Yale, has called ‘a toxic food environment.'”
It’s disturbing. It’s alarming. And it’s false. In January 1998, The New England Journal of Medicine declared the data claiming 300,000 annual obesity deaths “limited, fragmented and often ambiguous,” and that the evidence of such a high mortality rate “is by no means well established” and “derived from weak or incomplete data.” As for the definition of “obese,” in 1998 the federal government changed its measurement standards, tipping 30 million Americans from healthy to “overweight” overnight — without gaining an ounce. Among the “obese” and “overweight”: Tom Cruise and Michael Jordan.
But the campaign to demonize restaurant food, snacks, and soft drinks continues, with talk of “sin taxes” on food and drink meant to price “offensive” foods out of reach, advertising bans, and more. The war on food is following the same battle plan as the war on tobacco.
“I’ve been chewing on a radical proposal: That we treat overeating the way we treat smoking,” columnist Susan Ager writes in The Detroit Free Press. “We decided as a society to treat smokers differently, to limit their freedom and choices, and the number of smokers has dropped dramatically… Maybe the government should mandate nutrition standards for [restaurants] and supermarkets… Maybe restaurant portions should be regulated… Maybe vending machines should be banned unless they stock only low-fat snacks. Maybe food ads should be erased from television the way cigarette ads were.”
Ager may think she has a fresh idea, but John Banzhaf, the attorney head of Action on Smoking and Health and a man who has been made wealthy through legal action against cigarette companies, is now targeting food. “As we’ve done with regard to cigarettes, [we could] put a higher tax on foods… thereby using that money to perhaps promote healthier eating. Now this is what we do with smoking,” Banzhaf has said. “People… are concerned that we are going to succeed in these [lawsuits] as we did in the tobacco area. And maybe we will. Time will tell.”
Tomorrow in Part Two: A look at some of the leading voices in the anti-consumer freedom War on Fat.