Filed Under: Big Fat Lies

Hyperbole, Thy Name Is Brownell

“Imagine this front-page news story: ‘SARS epidemic infects 60 million Americans, with economic losses exceeding $1 trillion. In response, government announces a massive public health campaign, industry pledges full cooperation regardless of cost, school districts agree to take all necessary measures.’ Fortunately, SARS hasn’t reached these proportions, but obesity has … The obesity epidemic threatens the foundations of our society as would a massive SARS outbreak.” So write food nannies par excellence David Ludwig and Kelly Brownell in last Thursday’s Boston Globe.

Where to begin?

Let’s give Brownell and Ludwig the benefit of the doubt and assume that they’ve been too busy counting calories to read a newspaper in the past few months. That would explain their apparent misunderstanding of SARS — a highly contagious disease that can kill within weeks of contraction. While medical authorities are racing to learn more about SARS, they’re still not sure how to treat it. Victims are torn away from their families and quarantined. There is nothing they can do to improve their chances of survival.

Obesity, by contrast, is not contagious. It has been associated with an increased risk for certain long-term diseases, but it’s no more a silent killer than old age. And far from being a mysterious virus with no known cure, everyone from Richard Simmons to Suzanne Somers to Aunt Mildred can tell you how to combat it.

Those who believed that professors of public health at Harvard (Ludwig) and Yale (Brownell) would appreciate these differences stand corrected.

To find out whether you are one of those 60 million Americans that ninnies like Brownell and Ludwig consider obese, visit our Body-Mass Index (BMI) calculator. Sylvester Stallone, Russell Crowe, and Tom Cruise are all considered obese; yet surprisingly, none has made an action-adventure about the obesity outbreak. Despite Brownell’s and Ludwig’s desperate attempts to paint the food industry as villain in a dramatic story of good vs. evil, somehow we don’t anticipate Arnold Schwarzenegger — who’s also obese as per the 1998 redefinition — taking the role of deep-fat-frying mogul, who in the end is defeated by the Kelly Brownell character, played by the ever-emaciated David Spade.

No one will make a movie about obesity because the subject is boring. Discussions of obesity belong in dry, academic journals. They belong in legislatures, which should address declining participation in gym class. And they belong in homes. But not in overly-dramatic op-eds, written by academics seeking to make a name for themselves.

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