The Obesity Obsession

Via Liz Lightfoot in the Telegraph:

Nearly 60 per cent of girls aged 12 to 15 described themselves as
overweight when only 15 per cent met the medical criteria for excess
body fat.

The findings prompted the Schools Health Education Unit, which carries
out the annual survey, to issue an appeal for an end to the "obsession"
with skeletal body shapes in the media and fashion industry.

Yeah, I know this is the UK, but I bet you would get similar results in the states.  While the article points the finger at the media and fashion industry, how about government and academic know-it-alls who with their recent obsession on teenage obesity are reinforcing this message?  For example, remember this previous post about the Arkansas governor's new program:

I get email and comments from time to time that my language deriding
government's intervention into every aspect of our lives is overblown
and exaggerated.  My answer:  Oh yeah, well how about this:

Mike Huckabee, the Governor of Arkansas, now
requires annual fat reports. These are sent to the parents of every
single child aged between 5 and 17; a response, he says, to "an
absolutely epidemic issue that we could not ignore" in the 1,139
schools for which he is responsible.

I
just cannot craft any reasonable theory of government where this is the
state's job.   The "obesity" crisis in this country just amazes me.
"Experts" every few years broaden the definition of who is overweight
or obese, and suddenly (surprise!) there are more people defined as
overweight.  Even presuming it is the state's job to optimize our body
weights, is it really the right approach to tell everyone they are too
fat?  Having known several people who were anorexic, including at least
one young woman who died of its complications, is it really a net
benefit to get young people more obsessed with looks and body style?
And what about the kids that are genetically programmed to be
overweight?  Does this mean that years of taunting and bullying by
their peers is not enough, that the state's governor wants to pile on
now?

It is interesting to note that governor Huckabee apparently started
this initiative after his own personal battle with weight loss:

[Huckabee] lost 110lb after being warned that his
weight, more than 280lb after a life of southern fried food, was a
death sentence. A chair even collapsed under him as he was about to
preside over a meeting of state officials in Little Rock.

We
all have friends who have lost weight or gotten into homeopathy or
became a vegan and simply cannot stop trying to convert their friends
now that they see the light.  Now we have the spectacle of elected
officials doing the same thing, but on a broader scale and with the
force of law, rather than  just mere irritation, on their side.  One
can only imagine what report cards kids would be carrying home if
Huckabee had instead had a successful experience with penis
enlargement.  What's next, negative reports for kids with bad acne?
For women whose breasts are too small?  For kids who are unattractive?

  • JohnDewey

    I agree that children should not be hounded about their weight. However, I also believe public schools should teach nutrition and promote physical fitness.

    IMO, adult obesity is a huge problem for our nation. And I do so it as a problem for government. Like it or not, the federal government now pays for healthcare of retirees. The federal government will be paying huge sums to treat millions of boomer diabetics, unless those boomers change their dietary habits very soon.

  • http://www.halfsigma.com Half Sigma

    Don't forgot, the largest study of its kind showed that it's healthier to be "overweight."

    If we want kids to live longer, maybe we should be feeding them more?

  • Max Schwing

    I think this "obesity" thing is really interesting, because on one side, many leftists like to bash the "Cheerleader"-role-model of dumb-super-sporty girls and then they come to hate obesity.
    So, what do they want? Sporty Cheerleaders or obese "regular girls"...
    I can only think of: "Let the market decide, which kind of person will win out!" ;)

  • Doug

    The problem with obsessing over our weight is that we focus on the appearance aspects of it. The goal should be health, not good looks. It is entirely possible to lose 50 pounds eating junk food (but less of it), but it is not at all healthy. When you learn to eat a truly healthy diet, the pounds tend to go away without much effort.

  • JohnDewey

    Half sigma: "Don't forgot, the largest study of its kind showed that it's healthier to be overweight."

    I have never read nor even heard about such a study. Can you provide any more information about this "largest study"? Being overweight is healthier than what? suffering from malnutrition?

  • JohnDewey

    Half sigma,

    I did find 2005 research released by Katherine Flegal of the Center for Disease Control that shows this: those who are slightly overweight lived longer than those who are underweight. But it also found that obesity is associated with higher death rates.

    Flegal's conclusion has been refuted. Three problems cited with the CDC study:

    1. It didn't control for people who were thin after weight loss from pre-existing disease - diseases that caused earlier mortality.

    2. It didn't control for the effects of tobacco smokers, who are more likely to be thin and also more likely to die younger.

    3. It did not establish being slightly overweight as a cause for longer life expectancy. It is possible that overweight people simply receive more medical attention from physicians, and so life-threatening illnesses are diagnosed earlier.

    Here's two quotes from the director of the Center for Disease Control, Julie Gerberding:

    "There are some statistical aspects of the way the study was designed and the data sources used in that, that the author herself would not claim that overweight as protective of ill health."

    "I know a lot of people were hoping that CDC was going to come out and say it was okay to be overweight, but we're not saying that. It is not okay to be overweight."

    Here's a link that explains why the study may be flawed:

    http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/now/jun24/cdc.html

  • http://www.mikehuckabeepresident2008.blogspot.com BSR

    The Associated Press just published an article about this. Guess what? Huckabee's BMI program is working, it is very popular with the people of Arkansas, strongly supported by the medical community, and now several more states are picking it up. Check this link:

    http://mikehuckabeepresident2008.blogspot.com/2006/06/ap-huckabee-program-leads-to-better.html

  • http://www.marketpowerblog.com Phil

    JohnDewey,

    I agree with having Phys Ed in schools (sound mind, sound body). I'm not sure if I'd want school teachers to teach my kids much about nutrition aside from teaching them about the science of food and human bodies. I certainly don't want them teaching my kids about what they should and should not be doing (there's way too much social engineering as it is these days). That's my and my wife's job.

  • JohnDewey

    Phil,

    What are you meaning by "what they should or should not be doing"? Is it wrong for public schools to discourage consumption of sugar-loaded food products and encourage consumption of green, leafy vegetables? I hope it's not wrong to teach that over-consumption of the former can lead to serious adult diseases.

    What I'd like schools to teach is nutrition, defined as "the science of proper, balanced diet to promote health". Most scientists and nuitritionists agree about what constitutes a balanced diet. I'm not convinced most parents are any more prepared to teach nutrition than they are to teach mathematics.

    I'd also prefer that the schools I'm paying for teach cardiovascular physical education. Thirty and forty years ago physical education for male non-athletes was simply an hour of playing softball. I'm not sure what if anything is being taught now.

    Do you agree that I, a non-parent taxpayer, should have as much influence as any parent about what is taught in public schools?

  • Technomad

    The thing is, Americans have never been keen on "green leafy vegetables." Back in the Old Days, it was called "garden-sass," and was what you ate if you couldn't afford better.

    Part of the problem is that the government and the chronic alarm-shriekers have repeatedly redefined obesity down; part of the problem is that a lot of things that kids used to do that kept them exercised have been forbidden as "too dangerous," or likely to get someone sued; part of the problem is just that we're the first generation that can be sure of having more than enough to eat, and our bodies are still wired for the opposite situation; part of the problem is parents who have a big "clean the plate!" obsession.

  • http://www.halfsigma.com Half Sigma

    Sorry, I don't buy into the "study was flawed" argument. It was pretty compelling that people in the "overweight" category had fewer deaths than in the "normal" category. And very few deaths were caused by being in the "moderately obese" category. Below is the link to a post about it at my blog:

    http://www.halfsigma.com/2005/04/the_overweight__1.html

  • http://www.halfsigma.com Half Sigma

    I also don't understand the "kids don't exercise anymore" meme. It seems to me that children are involved in sports to a greater extent today than they ever were in the past. Every kid in junior high school seems to be on several sports teams.

  • JohnDewey

    Half sigma: "Sorry, I don't buy into the "study was flawed" argument."

    Well, that doesn't surprise me. But I think that an open-minded person would at least rethink his assertion. After all, it was the director of the CDC, the sponsor of the study you referenced, who asaid about conclusions drawn from that study: "It is not okay to be overweight."

    Half sigma: "And very few deaths were caused by being in the "moderately obese" category."

    Half sigma, I don't think the study said this at all. They could not establish what "caused" the lower death rates among the moderately overweight. Observing that "moderately overweight" people had slightly lower death rates does not establish cause and effect.

    I don't believe there is such a category as "moderately obese". The CDC discussion I read refers to the category "moderately overweight".

  • Agammamon

    ". . . believe public schools should teach nutrition and promote physical fitness. . .

    . . .Like it or not, the federal government now pays for healthcare of retirees."

    I'd have to disagree with both of those statements. hey show how deep the "the government is in charge" meme has embedded itself.

    Its the parents whoshould be teaching nutrition and promoting fitness, possibly using public schools as a tool for the education of their children.

    And the whole like it or not thing is crap - Its not an unchangeable situation, we can still reverse every nanny state expansion. Its just a matter of motivating te large number of people who agree that the government is taking on too much work but think like you do - that the status quo can't be changed.

  • JohnDewey

    Agammamon,

    Good luck with trying to get rid of Medicare. When I was 30 I would have joined the fight. But, at 55, there are no other viable options for me. None.

    After paying for 30 to 40 years into this system, boomers like me won't vote to change it now. And we've got the votes to keep Medicare. IMO, before boomers end their post-65 medical benefits, they'll first sacrifice:

    - half the national defense spending;
    - all new highways and mass transit;
    - 100% of agriculture subsidies;
    - half the federal education funding;
    - the entire Department of Energy;
    - the National Park Service;
    - the Fish and Wildlife Service;
    - the Department of Labor's training funds;
    and much more.

    What I'm saying is that Medicare, or some form of federal retiree health insurance, is likely the most untouchable federal program.

    Please understand I'm not arguing for the status quo. I would prefer elimination of federal REGULATION of medical care. But anyone who believes the government won't be PAYING for boomers' retiree medical benefits is smoking dope.

  • JohnDewey

    "Its the parents whoshould be teaching nutrition and promoting fitness, possibly using public schools as a tool for the education of their children."

    As I said before, most parents are no more qualified to teach nutrition than they are to teach mathematics. IMO, both are equally important for individual citizens and for our nation as a whole.

    You can argue forever what parents should be doing. But it's obvious to me most parents are neither teaching nor practicing good nutrition.

    The nation's taxpayers will eventually pick up the tab for parents' dereliction of duty. Anything the schools can do now to reduce that long term bill is just fine with me.

  • Object On Principal

    The theory is quite simple (but fatally flawed) - the reasoning is: society pays a cost for health impact of overweight people so it's government's role to try to discourage (even punish) those who are overweight, and those who help them become overweight.

    Of course, this is a ridiculous argument, and is yet another reason why publicly-funded schools are evil to the core. Of course the machinery of indoctrination will be used for this kind of purpose - once 'leaders' decide this is a problem that must be dealt with, how can they possibly avoid trying to pull the levers at their disposal?

    And this is yet another reason why one should object to erecting the kind of state that has this kind of power (legitimately or otherwise) - you just never know what kind of nutcases will be elected by an increasingly dependent and irresponsible electorate.

    This is why people should prefer to keep state power as limited as possible: because you just never know what purposes the 'power' will be put to in the future.

    I cringe for all those who have self-identified their 'race', 'sexual orientation', or other bits of information on various government forms - consider what a fascistic, tyrannical government might do with such information 20 years hence.

    "It can't happen here" so don't ever think about what might happen.

  • JohnDewey

    Object on Principal,

    Public schools have been teaching nutrition and encouraging fitness for at least 50 years. That's how long ago I first entered the public school system.

    I agree it is not government's role to punish fat kids or their parents. But I believe teaching nutrition and encouraging fitness, including measurement, is a legitimate function for public schools. Providing parents - not the child himself - with a report on the child's physical condition makes a lot of sense to me. I will encourage my local school system to follow the Arkansas example.

    Your scare tactic - trying to equate a governor's initiative born out of true concern for children's health with fascistic, tyrannical government action - seems exaggerated to me.