Obesity Conference Serves Up Scaremongering And Common Sense Alike

There’s been a lot of news coming up from Down Under this week. In addition to the tragic death of internationally beloved conservationist Steve Irwin, Australia is busy playing host to the 10th International Congress on Obesity. Running the show is the Oceanic affiliate of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, an organization whose obesity “task force” receives three-fourths of its funding from weight-loss drug makers, according to Britain’s Daily Mail.

We’ve had our hands full keeping up with all the fearmongering claims made by various speakers at the conference, whether official or not. Here’s the worst:
In his speech opening the conference, Paul Zimmet warned that obesity is as big a threat as things like bird flu. The hyperbole of this claim is reminiscent of nothing so much as veteran obesity scaremongers Kelly Brownell and David Ludwig’s comparison of obesity with SARS. As for Zimmet, we’ve covered his financial conflicts before.
Zimmet’s co-chair Kate Steinbeck said that obesity is “not about gluttony — it is the interaction of heredity and environment.” Last time we checked, there’s something between your body and the food in the “environment” outside your body: you.
Fresh from ranking obesity above starvation in the world’s problems, Barry Popkin took a little time to advocate a tax on soft drinks.
According to one spokesman: “No one can deny there is a link between food marketing and children getting fatter.” No one, that is, except the Institute of Medicine, which found that “current evidence is not sufficient to arrive at any finding about a causal relationship from television advertising to adiposity [excess weight] among children and youth.”

Luckily, it’s not all bad news for lovers of consumer freedom and personal responsibility. Here are a few glimmers of hope from the conference: Saying “there’s nothing wrong with the odd treat,” Australia’s health minister rejected calls for restrictions on children’s food marketing.
An Australian health economics consultant said that “the growing clamour from health experts for a so-called ‘fat tax’ was misguided and would hurt the poor much more than it would hurt the rich.” She also told her audience that a “‘fat tax’ also incorrectly assumed that the type of food consumed was the problem rather than the amount of food.”
A British psychologist told the conference that girls “as young as five are sensitive about their bodies in a ‘weight-hostile’ environment that equates popularity and attractiveness with thinness.” While this isn’t good news itself, it is an indication that obesity hype encourages eating disorders, a phenomenon we’ve reported on before.

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