A Radical Expansion of “Public Health”

We’ve examined in the past how the portfolio of issues handled by “public health” bureaucrats has expanded from infectious diseases — over which we have no control — to lifestyle choices over which we have absolute control. This expanded view gives the “public health” bureaucracy license to attack anything that doesn’t fit its ideal view of health. As we said recently: “You only thought you lived in the land of the free.”

Over the weekend, our Senior Research Analyst reiterated our objections to these meddlesome regulators in The Star-Ledger:

Despite the hype, obesity is about private, not public, health — because whether a person is fat has no health effect on somebody else. There’s no such thing as second-hand obesity. And despite obesity being dubbed an “epidemic,” it’s not. That would require added weight to be contagious, like smallpox.

Of course, we don’t expect them to back off. Rather, they intend to redouble their efforts to insert a hand in every morsel and drop Americans consume. There’s a reason a Supreme Court Justice might worry about a putative mandate to eat broccoli. It’s not entirely hypothetical.

To lay out the regulators’ case for banishing us all to the (dressing-free) salad line, the journal PLoS Medicine has even brought aboard Marion Nestle to edit a serialized special feature on how evil or something restaurants and food makers are. And like the authors of the Institute of Medicine’s recent obesity-fighting report (that we called a Social Engineer’s Manifesto), the PLoS Medicine editors are adamant that we have no control over our eating and exercising habits. They write:

In recognition, a bold move by Journal of Public Health Policy discourages studies of individual eating and activity, […] because, as the editors state, they “have come to believe that research studies concentrating on personal behavior and responsibility as causes of the obesity epidemic do little but offer cover to an industry seeking to downplay its own responsibility.”

Translation: Public health researchers won’t do real science because they might not like the political implications of the results. They probably wouldn’t: Middle Tennessee State and Lehigh University researchers suggest that Twinkie Tax godfather Kelly Brownell’s “toxic food environment” may simply be a noxious myth.

As Wall Street Journal editors noted in response to the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report, “Beware of scientists who moonlight as politicians.” But the public health community espouses even more radical notions than condemning whole classes of studies that might call their agendas into question. We caught a glimpse of some of this rhetoric when the IOM report came out: When 61 percent of Reuters/Ipsos poll respondents agreed that personal behavior is responsible for obesity, that sanity was characterized as “prejudicial attitudes.”

But a widespread lack of personal responsibility caused the obesity problem, and only a restoration of personal responsibility can bring it under control. The good news is that the real evidence—not model-generated projections—shows that progress is being made. Obesity rates have leveled off and people are eating six teaspoons less of added sugars per day than they did in 2000. Of course, any progress at all won’t stop those culinary elitists who think we “can’t be trusted” to make our own decisions from regulating us. It’s all they know.

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