A recent report from the RAND institute in Santa Monica, Calif., found that obese adults have more chronic health problems than smokers, heavy drinkers and those who live in poverty. On average, the obese have twice the number of chronic problems than do people of normal weight.
This is no small issue. The report does not deal with “chronic problems” such as dandruff and fingernail-biting; it deals with killer afflictions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, asthma and cancer.
Roland Sturm, a lead author of the RAND study, recommends that public officials should devote at least as much effort and resources to fight obesity as they use in the fight against smoking.
According to Dr. David Thompson of Innovus Research Inc., the United States has the highest percentage of obese people in the world. He sizes the problem this way: “In the United States, three out of five adults are at least overweight, and the number of obese is about 20 to 30 percent.”
Thompson’s numbers tend to confirm the RAND study finding that there are more overweight people in America than smokers, heavy drinkers and poor people combined.
Dozens of stories are popping up all over the media suggesting that the concern over excess fat is gaining momentum. For example, Frank Booth, a professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia, has invented a name to describe what he estimates as 250,000 deaths per year in the U.S. caused by inactivity-related diseases. He calls it “Sedentary Death Syndrome.”
In another story, the California state Senate has just voted to limit the fat and sugar content of food served in government schools. Sen. Steve Peace, D-El Cajon, argued that bad diet has done more harm to students than tobacco. He said, “The food we feed our children is killing them.”
The appeal to treat obesity as aggressively as we are treating tobacco brings to mind the basic attitudes that have governed the war against smoking. Former Center for Disease Control Director William Foege wrote, “Free will is not within the power of most smokers.” He did not mean that smoking is inherited; he meant that it is an addictive disease. Smokers do not have a choice, and they bear no responsibility for what they do.
Jacob Sullum, author of “For Your Own Good: The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health” reminds us of what Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., wrote in 1991: “If exposure to cigarette advertising is a risk factor for disease, it is incumbent on the public and elected officials to deal with it as we would the vector of any other pathogen.”
There is a growing consensus that obesity, like smoking, is an addiction, not a choice. After all, who would willingly choose to be obese? These unfortunate victims have a right to demand government protection, and they have the right as well to sue those who produce, sell and advertise products that entice them to an eating style that leads to obesity and death. The precedent is in place for an avalanche of laws and lawsuits.
Every problem in America, every need and every threat, whether real or conjured, is used as an excuse for the confiscation of private wealth, the suppression of individual freedom and the expansion of an overbearing government bureaucracy. An imperial government is taking charge of our lives in the name of what’s good for us, telling us what to eat, how to raise our children, what cars to drive, when to buckle up, where to set our thermostats, who can play professional golf, how often to flush the toilet, what to believe and what to think.
Where will Nanny Government look next? Will it be toward those responsible for second-hand exhaust fumes from oversized autos and trucks? Will it be toward parents who smoke in homes where children are present? And how about those filthy meat packers, greedy pharmaceutical houses and evil liquor barons? How about Ronald McDonald as a target?
The government rape and shakedown of the tobacco industry set a format for the advancement of tyranny; the government now claims it has not only a legal right but a moral duty to fully regulate any activity bearing on the health or well being of citizens. In America today, there is no business that the government considers none of its business.
There are ominous consequences to our abandonment of the firm restrictions on government set forth in the Constitution. It’s time for outrage, thunderously expressed so that even the numbest politician will hear it and be afraid.