World Wide Waistband


New at Reason: Are fat people victims of the fast food conspiracy? Victims of discrimination? Handicapable folks in need of special considerations? Jacob Sullum considers some of the many questions that come with a few extra pounds.

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  1. Save us from the people who want to save us!

  2. ^Thanks for the enlightening comment.

    Hmmm, I scoffed at the notion that the cigarette vice tax would extend to other items a couple of years ago when my brother mentioned the possibility to me. I realize now that I was wrong. I am possibly as vice-free as a person could get AND I think the tub in the article deserves to be discriminated against, but nevertheless, I have to oppose the $1.50 cigarette tax being proposed in CA and any related fast/junk food taxes in the works – at least on principle.

  3. I told a friend that libertarians operate on principle not on what’s good for us, and he told me that he thought that libertarians thought acting on self-interest was good. The Virtue of Selfishness…?

  4. fyodor,
    Citizens acting on self-interest is compatible with libertarianism.

    Government acting on principles of liberty and equality under the law is also good.

    Gangs of citizens leveraging the power of government to dictate what is good for everyone else: not libertarian

  5. If you owned a bar, would you (knowingly) hire an alcoholic?

    If you owned a tanning salon, would you hire one of those overtanned women in their 30’s with 70-year-old skin (an all-too-common sight here in the Grand Canyon State)?

    I can hardly blame McD’s for not wanting to to hire someone who’ll remind their patrons what consuming their products can lead to…

    …but it seems like they could have been more clever about brushing him off. “Six years experience? Sorry, you’re overqualified. We can hire a high school kid for minimum wage.”

  6. What’s wrong with an employer being able to hire whomever he/she thinks will benefit his or her business the most? EVEN IF that means hiring someone who’s more attractive for, say, a tanning salon, or hiring someone who’s not so fat that he makes his own “gravy” in the summertime to work at a fast food restaurant?!?!

    Have we all lost our friggin’ minds in the name of political correctness? Do employers have any rights anymore? Or should employers just suck it up in the name of making the “disadvantaged” feel better about themselves?

    Sure, discrimination based solely upon the basis of race, creed, etc. is obviously wrong, but what about genuine ability? (And is ability only mental, or can it be physical, i.e., appearance, as well? If not, why not?) If Person A is much better looking than Person B, and Employer thinks that her business will perform much better with an attractive person representing her business to customers rather than someone resembling a massive face trauma patient, shouldn’t Employer be well within her rights to hire the pretty person versus the mangled non-pretty person?

  7. Yes, I know that Dr Atkins was a nutcase and the Atkins diet is one step below Voodoo in scientific terms.

    But I still can’t figure out how this happened but my wife has lost 30 pounds and I have lost 10 and I would have lost more if I could stay away from beer.

    Maybe the Nanny State Advocates should start suing bread and pasta makers?

    You can eat all the Wendy’s Triples you want, with cheese & bacon; just throw away the bun.

  8. I work for a company that used to manufacture recreational equipment.

    Then we laid off most of our employees & moved the factory to China & Taiwan; but that’s a post for a different topic.

    The few remaining employees here tend to be thin & in shape and in fact several of them are competitive amateur athletes.

    But the money our health insurance carrier saves on us because we don’t smoke & we don’t have heart attacks is spent (at least to a certain extent) on our broken arms & stress fractures.

    It’s none of my business, but I’d love to see if health care costs for a company like ours where a bunch of the employees have bodies like Greek gods is really lower than a company of couch potatoes.

  9. Actually, Atkins was far better than voodoo – as far as I’m aware, the best evidence puts it at most “unknown”, with the possibility of actually working just fine. I’m not aware of any voodoo involved – it’s just that if the body does not have access to sufficient amounts of sugar/carbs the metabolic processes, as they deal with fat and protein, change. So long as you don’t do too much protein and keep the carbs low enough the body is forced into keytosis, which isn’t neccessarily bad, and thus you loose weight primarily because, if I recall correctly, the body just stops trying to store fat anymore and starts reaching into the bodily reserves to obtain a sufficient amount of sugars and such to maintain normal bodily function.

    Works pretty well, really. What it does for the colon and kidneys, I don’t so much know. I couldn’t do the diet either way – I’m a vegetarian, and going low-carb when all you eat are plants (unless you count salt) and their derivative products (like flour and sugar, etc) is just…well, no thank you.

  10. Excellent article, Mr. Sullum. Thank you for bringing the topic to our attention. I want to comment on an excerpt from the article because I feel it suggests a corporate agenda that can not (should not, and therefore probably will) become the centerpiece of any debate regarding fat-people rights or burger-eatin’ rights.

    “On the one hand, fat people are victims, seduced by sinister corporations like McDonald’s into eating more than they should. From this perspective, the chain’s shabby treatment of Connor added insult to injury, rejecting him for practicing the gluttony on which the company depends.”

    I’ll assume that the first sentence is a declaration of what you believe the “Gangs of citizens leveraging the power of government to dictate what is good for everyone else” consider a legal approach, if not a socially compelling (with emphasis on compel) mandate. (“Gangs…” characterization from Warren, above).

    What worries me is the presumption that McDonalds and its ilk “depend” on gluttony, that it is perhaps part of their business model. I know many non-fat people who take pleasure in the regular fries and burger. At 5’11” and 165lbs., I’m hardly fat, although I eat fast food four or five times a month. Am I an anomaly in the McDs demographic, or am I one of millions who constitute a constant, easily satisfied, and vast market — a market of non-fat fast-food consumers? Without any numbers at my disposal, I’d even wager that if you weighed every person who ate at McDs 4 or 5 times a month, you’d find the median weight is much closer to the middle of the spectrum than to the fat end of the scale, if you will.

    So, assuming that McDs “depends” on Americans’ gluttony strikes me as less of a realistic position than a cunning legal one. I think it’s our responsibility first to repair the legislative sloppiness that allows a fat man to exploit conflicting disabilities acts. Isn’t this really what your article is about? Opportunism in the form of legal action? I worry that, if I’m mistaken, your article is perhaps too much about what McDonalds is up to. And that’s the kind of fuel litigators are always looking for.

    Thanks, again, for a thoughtful article.

  11. Mike H said: “Sure, discrimination based solely upon the basis of race, creed, etc. is obviously wrong, but what about genuine ability?”

    Is it *that* obvious? What if you own a customer service type business in a white racist area? Should you be forbidden from discriminating against non-whites, even if this non-discrimination means your business will fail? Seems to me that the law shouldn’t be involved in such matters. I apologize if this comes off as racist, and I figure that, in the long run, racial discrimination will *hurt* most businesses… but either way, the law should remain mute on the question.

    You can’t have it both ways. If it’s *not* permitted to discriminate by race, how can it be fine and dandy to discriminate by weight?


  12. John and Plutarck:

    Actually, some studies have come out comparing Atkins weight loss favorably to that on other diets. And HDL levels are up, and LDL’s and triglycerides are down. For years, the ADA nazis were bad-mouthing Atkins for violating their filthy fucking “food pyramid.” But now, they’re so quiet you can hear the crickets chirping.

    Any competent authority can tell you the human digestive system is largely unchanged from before the agricultural revolution, when the standard hunter-gatherer diet was lean meat, lots of raw veggies and fruit, roots, nuts, etc., and very few cereal grains. Atkins argues that the stupid asshole “food pyramid” was designed by university dietics departments heavily funded by Cargill and ADM and by the USDA (like there’s a difference?).

    Anyway, the “conventional wisdom” of the ADA is about ten or fifteen years old at any given time. They’re just starting to talk about maybe modifying the puke making pyramid to distinguish between simple and complex carbs, and to recommend whole grains over refined. Maybe in another ten years, they’ll incorporate the glycemic index into their recommendations.

    Check out Thomas Kuhn sometime on paradigm shift in science (“The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”). The conventional wisdom in any field tends to reflect an institutional mindset or orthodoxy, which in turn is heavily influenced by institutional power interests. It’s not necessarily that the answers are suppressed; in many cases the questions aren’t even being asked, or are asked the wrong way.

    For example, mainstream allopathic MD’s like to say that any vitamin C over the US RDA is wasted, that you’re just pissing a lot of expensive vitamin C down the toilet. What they forget to mention is that every molecule of that ascorbic acid going into the crapper has a free radical attached to it. And they confuse the RDA, which is the bare minimum dose needed to prevent scurvy, with the dose necessary for optimal functioning. Although it’s subject to diminishing returns, increments of vitamin C continue to be beneficial up to several grams a day. Generally, you can tell an “expert” is just mouthing a dogma by the fact that the straw man he knocks down has nothing to do with the actual claims of the heretics he’s attacking.

  13. I liked the article.

    That being said, now let me add something immature and irrelevant (this is a blog, right?):

    That was a very sophisticated way to say “no fat chicks” to Kelly Brownell, wasn’t it? 😉

  14. Mike H, when you wrote: “Sure, discrimination based solely upon the basis of race, creed, etc. is obviously wrong”

    I took it to mean that you don’t consider it morally acceptable to discriminate along racial lines. But I don’t see why you gave special consideration to it racial issues. I admit I was wrong to read legal implications into what you wrote, sorry about that. But why the special moral claim above?


  15. Not only is the morning phlegm production not exactly hidden, nor is the fire that smokers are inhaling!


    How can anyone, no matter what the tobacco companies said or allegedly said, think that breathing in fire is anything but bad for you??

    I like to use a little something called “common-friggin’-sense!”

  16. When I was 10 years old, my parents made me play baseball. I sucked. Horribly. So I got stuck in the league with all the 7 and 8 year olds. I was tall for my age, so they didn’t have uniform pants in my size. I never got the white uniform pants – I wore grey sweatpants the whole year.

    Somebody get me a lawyer.

  17. I think I’ve eaten at that McDonalds.

    Not hiring people because of appearance is pretty common, there’s a day spa nearby that won’t hire male receptionists or people with bad skin. You just have to make sure that you have a good excuse if the people you don’t hire make a big deal out of it.

  18. I enjoy Jacob’s writing, but I have issues with this particular argument.

    My response is posted here:

  19. Andy,

    Because discriminating against people based upon race is wrong. It’s not a wrong that I think the law should try to tackle, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s personally offensive to me, and many people.

  20. Responding to Kristopher’s response on his website:

    I think there is a difference in the smoking and obesity movement, and it centers around your notion of informed decision making. The health effects of smoking may be invisible for years, but obesity is not an invisible effect.
    Simply put, every obese person is an informed consumer because their expanding body size informs them that the way they are living leads to increased weight gain. No one gains 100lbs over night. When you have to buy larger pants every 4 months, you are being informed of your weight gain. This is not the hidden lung destruction smoking can cause.
    Your reasoning also denies the obese person’s responsability. Saying “influences lead to consequences” is wrong. All the non-obese people in the world exposed to the same advertisements and other influences disprove that notion. Actions lead to consequences. Don’t tax my snacks because someone else is negligent in their body upkeep.

  21. Andy,

    I recently saw a quote from Chesterton: “Just because you have a right to do something doesn’t mean it’s right to do it.” My sentiments exactly.

  22. Andy,

    Uh, I think if you’ll re-read my post, you’ll discover that I think an employer should have the right to hire whomever he or she wishes. I thought I made it clear on the physical appearance side, and I was at least trying to imply the same for the racial side as well.

  23. all that morning phlegm production isn’t exactly hidden either. just a thought.

  24. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/20/2004 02:38:06
    Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius.

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