Ellen Ruppel Shell, author of The Hungry Gene: The Science of Fat and the Future of Thin, is sounding downright Churchillian. “We can no longer afford to consider body mass entirely a matter of personal choice and obesity something people bring upon themselves,” the food nanny thundered in a recent op-ed. “We have not lost the war on obesity in this country. We have just begun to fight it.”
Now Canada’s SEED magazine has published a mammoth essay written by Ruppel Shell, in which she complains that the “food industry has worked hard to convince us that limiting choices is what the McDonald’s litigation is trying to accomplish.” But then she turns around and argues that a variety of choices is indeed a bad thing:
Michael Lowe, professor of psychology at Drexel University and research associate at the Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders, agrees that the scientific case against fast food is building. Scientists have known for decades that the more food available, the more people will eat. But what’s new, Lowe says, are studies suggesting that perceived variety is equally effective at promoting overindulgence as actual variety. When sugar water is delivered to rats from five different bottles, they drink significantly more of it than they do when the same amount of sugar water is offered from a single bottle. Extrapolating this to humans by offering us variations on the high fat, high salt, highly sweetened theme, McDonald’s and other fast food outlets have all but set many of us up to overeat.
And what about the nefarious food industry claim that obesity lawsuits are driven by greed? After a chat with Samuel Hirsch, the lawyer suing McDonald’s because his clients are too fat, Ruppel Shell reports: “He says he took the McDonald’s case for money, as he does every case.”