Dr. Oz’s Fat-Headed Food Fear Mongering

Sometimes we’re not sure whether Dr. Mehmet Oz’s TV show is a trip to sugary make-believe or animal-rights fantasyland, but yesterday’s segment about childhood obesity was a one-way ticket to Crazytown. Questioning who’s to blame for overweight kids, Oz ominously warned that parents “face a powerful conspiracy when it comes to feeding their family.” And who’s the sinister wizard behind the curtain? Why, the “food industry,” of course.

This is daytime TV-drama tactics at their finest (read: lowest). Oz accuses food marketers of “hooking” kids, but grants that the companies aren’t “an evil empire.” Oh, sure, perhaps Oz meant to call them benevolent conspiracy-forming dictators. But we digress.

Dr. Oz invited Dr. Alan Greene to lay out the plan. In sum, Greene argues, companies make products containing—are you ready for this?—carbohydrates, fat, and salt. And worse: These snacks are tasty, they “hook” people into becoming slobbering potato-chip junkies, and they have the magical ability to erase willpower. Or something.

Yes, it’s that “food addiction” theory which first gained traction with agenda-driven trial lawyers and animal rights activists, and which is now being explored by “Twinkie tax” creator Kelly Brownell. Activists need to push an “addiction” theory because it undermines the notion of personal responsibility by making the claim that consumers are helpless in the orbit of a cupcake. (Brownell himself has argued that he wants to “get away from these arguments about personal responsibility.”)

Here’s the bottom line: Food is physically addictive only in the sense that our bodies require nutrients to live. And many things affect our brains, including sleeping and running. Even “opioids” — a class of chemicals that sound like illegal drugs — are simply the natural byproduct of everyday activities like exercising.

As a psychiatrist wrote in USA TODAY: “The word ‘addiction’ is perilously close to losing any meaning.” And it’s not like people are holding up convenience stores so they can afford their Twinkie habits.

It’s worth mentioning that Dr. Greene is on the board of The Organic Center, has supported the food-cop Center for Science in the Public Interest’s anti-food dye campaign, “consults”  with the worrywarts at the Environmental Working Group, and wrote a book promoting organic-only baby food. So he has his own ideological dog in the fight over whether processed foods are “addictive.”

On balance, Dr. Oz’s quest to improve kids’ diets may be a good thing. But if anything would create the need for a trip to rehab, it’s not a bag of chips. It’s hyperbolic theories thrown around shamelessly on daytime TV.

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