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The great obesity scam

By Alan Caruba
web posted September 13, 2004

Is the day far off when the federal government will decide what you eat and how much? The assault on the personal freedoms of Americans continues unabated. First it was the decision whether to smoke or not and now it involves every piece of food you ingest.

When the government decided that obesity was "a critical health problem in this country that causes millions of Americans to suffer unnecessary health problems and to die prematurely," your right to decide what, where, and how much to eat disappeared.

The "obesity epidemic" is a scam. The players involved in it include animal rights advocates who want to disparage consumption of beef, chicken, pork, milk, cheese, and other nutritious foods that come from animals. Others include pharmaceutical companies who are either selling or developing drugs to deal with obesity or just weight loss.

A third are radical nutrition activist groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest who has declared that Chinese food, consumed daily by billions of people, on the planet is dangerous. They also don't like Mexican food. Or, for that matter, almost anything else people consume. Their answer to obesity is a tax on foods they dislike.

Then, of course, there are the tort lawyers who made billions suing the tobacco companies and who are lining up to begin suing restaurant chains and food manufacturers of every description.

The lies upon which the so-called "obesity epidemic" is based are largely ignored by both the government and the mainstream press upon which the public depends for information. The lies are based on statistics. The assertion is that (1) obesity causes 300,000 deaths annual in America, (2) that 61 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, and (3) that this is costing $117 billion annually in medical costs.

In an August article written by David Martosko, published by The Heartland Institute, this consumer advocate revealed just how specious the statistical basis for the "obesity epidemic" really is. Martosko is the Director of Research for the Center of Consumer Freedom. Briefly, the assertion that 300,000 US deaths are attributable to excess weight was disputed in the January 1998 edition of the respected New England Journal of Medicine. In an editorial, the Journal called the data "limited, fragmented, and often ambiguous", adding that the figure "is by no means well established." One would literally have to assert that everyone deemed overweight died as a direct result of that condition.

The claim that obesity costs Americans $117 billion per year comes from a claim made in the March 1998 issue of Obesity Research whose authors admit "We are still uncertain about the actual amount of health utilization associated with overweight and obesity." Moreover, they did not take into account factors such as height and weight from their primary data sources! Instead, they erroneously included the economic cost of individuals with a Body Mass Index (BMI) between 29 and 30. That added ten million Americans to their estimate, many of whose weight is not fat, but muscle. With this kind of flawed thinking, Arnold Schwartzenegger is fat! The BMI standard is seriously flawed and even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention casts doubt on it.

The extortion inflicted on the tobacco industry is likely now to be inflicted on food producers and providers. When the attorneys general in Mississippi and West Virginia decided to make a case out of their state's Medicaid costs, they and 44 others who joined the suit reaped $240 billion in a settlement. According to the General Accounting Office, only 19 percent of this year's $11.4 billion tobacco settlement will go to health care and smoking cessation. Fully 54 percent of the tobacco industry funds will be used to cover the state budget shortfalls due to reckless spending.

The 300 lawyers for 86 firms involved in the tobacco rip-off will pocket about $1 billion a year for helping negotiate the 25-year settlement.

It was a rip-off of the tobacco industry and the same will occur if this bogus "obesity epidemic" is allowed to continue. Looking for a way to underwrite the new prescription-drug benefits that have been added to Medicare, states will surely seek to extort funding from food producers and providers. That means everything you eat, no matter where you eat it, will cost more. It has nothing to do with health and everything to do with ill-conceived, profligate spending programs.

Just as smokers have now been demonized, so too will fat people. Restaurants may begin to turn away any rotund person for fear of the liability of feeding them. Various kinds of foods in the supermarket will carry warning signs and, of course, higher prices. All of this and more comes down to the insatiable (no pun intended) desire of the federal government to control every single aspect of our lives and, in this case, every single decision we make regarding our health.

The government may call being overweight an illness or a disease, but it is not. It is fundamentally a personal lifestyle decision and, just as people start or stop smoking of their own volition, it is not the function of government to make such decisions for citizens. Being overweight is also a genetic condition as one can easily see when families of overweight people gather for a picnic and two or three generations chow down together.

This nation is moving inexorably toward a cradle-to-grave philosophy of government control. What you eat and how much you eat is being targeted. You have precious little time left to tell every state and federal legislator to put a stop to this.

Alan Caruba writes a weekly commentary, "Warning Signs", posted on the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center. © Alan Caruba 2004

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