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The politics of obesity

John Stegeman Sports Editor

11 months 24 days 16 hours ago |167 Views | | | Email | Print

This week’s The New England Journal of Medicine has an editorial about the politics of obesity that says we should be doing more as a nation about the obesity epidemic but people think it’s an individual responsibility thing. (1) This article has the results of some interesting surveys of public perceptions. They have a chart that is labeled “conservatives, “moderates,” and “liberals.” This makes it seem like conservatives and liberals are immoderate. Judging from the stalemates in Congress and polls that show that 90 plus per cent of Americans have decided who to vote for and cannot be influenced by the $2 billion that Romney and Obama will spend trying, it would seem like Congress is just reflecting us and that conservatives and liberals are indeed immoderate.


Anyway, there is the point of view that anybody who is fat is that way because he is lazy and eats too much and it’s his own fault. We’ll call that the Republican point of view. But Democrats and moderates, to only a slightly lesser degree think, the same thing even though this has turned out to be an unsatisfactory point of view. Then there is the point of view that society and the food and beverage industry and the environment make us fat. This point of view is recently promoted by the Institute of Medicine in a report, “Solving the Weight of the Nation.” and an accompanying HBO documentary. This idea requires the government, which is to say all of us collectively if you’re not one of those people who believe that the government isn’t really “us,” has to be the one to fix this obesity epidemic. We’ll call this the Democratic point of view since it sounds like a Democratic big government thing, and Democrats believe this to a slightly greater degree than Republicans. Unfortunately this idea is pretty lame too. The evidence is circumstantial and weak.


Both of these points of view are based on the false premise that if we just eat less and exercise more we won’t be fat. It might be good to build more bike paths and take out hidden poisons like trans fatty acids and salt from processed foods but that won’t make us less fat and we shouldn’t spend a lot of money and aggravation on other things that won’t accomplish anything. And I’m a tax-and-spend Democrat.


1. Barry CL et al. Are Americans ready to solve the weight of the nation? N Engl J Med 2012;367:389-91.

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