Big, Fat Brother

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In the New English Review, Theodore Dalrymple thinks pretty deep thoughts about the expectation that government should help prevent obesity. Taking off on two articles from the New England Journal of Medicine, Dalrymple wonders why analysis of childhood problems doesn't begin and end with parental responsibility.

Whatever the reason, the fact that two articles about the problem of childhood obesity in the NEJM could fail even to mention individual parental responsibility is indicative of what one can only call a totalitarian mindset. According to this mindset, it is for the government to solve every problem, either by prescribing behaviour, or forbidding it, or of course both. It is not that I think that the proposal that the government should ban the advertising of noxious products to small children is wrong; what bothers me is the failure to recognise that there is any other dimension to the problem, a dimension that is in fact much more serious.

No doubt the NEJM does not want to court unpopularity, or even notoriety, by suggesting that millions of American parents are, at least in this respect, failing their own children (I suspect that they are failing them in other respects too).

Jacob Sullum's seminal cover story on this issue—"The War on Fat"—is here.

Via Arts & Letters Daily.

NEXT: Teach Them Well

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  1. What are you talking about? You must not have kids! You can’t possibly monitor what media, er, twinkies they consume all day!

    Or something …

  2. Dalrymple wonders why analysis of childhood problems doesn’t begin and end with parental responsibility.

    Probably because there are many problems that children have that are caused at least in part by other things.

    That and the fact that some people are good parents and some are lousy is pretty much accepted already but simply saying “everybody should be a good parent” doesn’t really help.

  3. It’s unfortunate that you Reasonoids react to every problem by denying it exists, in order to head off a big government response to the problem. Because when the problem is proven to exist, you’ve blown your credibility, and have no hope of having a voice in the response.

    This is a good example – I’ll bet the commenters could come up with 101 ways that government programs contribute to the obesity problems, and just as many anti-government solutions.

    I’ll start – sprawl zoning which restricts property owners and developers from building densely and mixing uses, and which require buildings to be set far off the road with huge, unwelcoming parking lots in front, discourage people fromt walking.

  4. Dan,
    But we’ve moved away from the standard that if you let your kids eat crap and not exercise, you’re not a good parent. If you smoke, you’re a bad parent. But if you feed you kids junk food and soda all day and then let them play video games all the time, you can still be a good parent.

    Oddly enough, when I was growing up my parents were able to monitor what I ate because the controlled the purse stings. This is despite the fact that they both worked. Not to mention, there was almost never soda in the house and when there was, there were explicit limits. My brother got really fat one summer and through some nudging and scolding from my parents, he lost it a couple years later. Parents are not powerless.

  5. joe,

    I don’t deny that obesity is a problem; I deny that the government should do anything about it other than suggesting that fatties exercise more and eat less.

  6. What’s your solution joe? Regulating what food people can eat?

  7. “It’s unfortunate that you Reasonoids react to every problem by denying it exists, in order to head off a big government response to the problem. Because when the problem is proven to exist, you’ve blown your credibility, and have no hope of having a voice in the response.”

    The definition of “the problem” would seem to be at issue. I don’t recall hearing the locals say that kids aren’t fat.

  8. Mo, did you miss the part where I offered a solution, and it was less regulation?

    Thank you for so aptly demonstrating my point.

  9. Real Bill,

    People make their choices in a context of incentives and costs. If government interventions are changing the cost/incentive structure in a manner that incentivizes unwise behavior and discourages healthy behavior, isn’t that worth talking about? Even if somebody you disagree with is talking about the same problem?

    For example, I don’t recall libertarians being silent about the problem of “Welfare Dependency,” even though the people talking loudest about it supported “statist” responses like federal marriage counselling.

  10. joe:

    I don’t think you have a solution, but I’m on board anyway.

  11. Fair enough, joe. What specific regulations do you think should be reduced or eliminated?

  12. Did I deny the existence of the problem? I think one problem is due to socialization. People no longer take personal responsibility for their or their children’s weight problems. By the way, I grew up in an area of snob zoning and obesity wasn’t a problem then. When I go visit my dad, it has. So the zoning in the same neighborhood is not the cause there.

    When I lived in LA proper, there were quite a few stores with huge, unwelcoming parking lots. Not because of zoning but because the stores had tons of customers driving in. However, LA, for my life has always been a city that caters to driver more than pedestrians, so that didn’t cause a shift in the wieght patterns either.

  13. I guess I will pile on Joe as well, although I do give Joe credit for posting something he knew would cause a riot. The problem Joe I think is not whether there is a problem but whose problem is it. If a kid is fat, that is not my problem that is the child and his parents’ problem. My objection differs a bit from Dalrymple’s. I not only object to the government solving every problem, I object to a collection of individual problems being lumped together to form a “societal problem”. Societies don’t do anything, individuals do.

  14. If there was ever a city with a bunch of people who desperately need to eat, it would be LA.

    joe, I get what you’re saying, but on obesity I don’t see a lot of denial about the existence of the problem. I see some skepticism about the full extent of the problem, but not much denial that there is a problem.

    Some might deny that it’s a public problem, but that’s different from denying the existence of a problem.

  15. As far as solving the obesity problem by scaling back the gov’t, I’m all in favor of eliminating zoning laws that artificially restrict density. (That’s not the same as calling for mandatory density, so everybody just chill out.)

    I’d like to go after agricultural policy, but I’m reluctant to draw too many conclusions here. For instance, sweeteners have been the topic of MUCH recent discussion here. We know that one sweetener is subsidized and another is artificially expensive due to tariffs. Assuming (for the sake of argument) that the weight effects of the sweeteners are roughly the same on a per-calorie basis, it’s not clear to me that changing agricultural policy would result in fewer sweets being consumed and hence weight loss.

    On dairy, I hear of both price supports and subsidies. I don’t know a lot about dairy policy, but it sounds complicated. So I don’t know whether a free market for dairy products would result in more or less dairy being consumed. As to health effects, keep in mind that dairy products include low-fat yogurt and ice cream, cheese-stuffed crust pizza and skim milk. So it’s not clear to me what the effects would be.

    And so on. Since the effects of agricultural policy are complex, and since the best dietary advice usually involves consuming a variety of foods in moderation, it’s hard for me to say whether a free market for food would really have a big effect on obesity.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to be able to claim that free markets would solve all of our obesity problems, but I just don’t know whether that would be an honest claim. And I do want to be reality-based here.

  16. joe,

    There is no doubt about it, there are more fat kids today. The question at hand is whether it’s caused by marketing. I’m inclined to agree somewhat with your sprawl argument as a factor, given that any activity must be driven to but I think that it’s more than that.

    My guess is that the root cause is risk aversion rather than food. We had the same crappy cereal, candy, twinkies, etc that today’s kids do. But today’s kids don’t get to do anything dangerous and are rarely allowed to be unsupervised, and if my memory serves me, that was when we had most of our exercise when I was a kid.

    Kids are more or less confined to TV and video games because those are safe, low maintenence activties. When they do get out, it’s to an organized sport. An hour of soccer practice three time a week is a pale substitute for 6-8 hours wandering the woods, playing tackle football, climbing trees, and otherwise getting into trouble.

  17. The obesity problem illustrates a generally ignored problem with free market innovation – what happens when we get too good at producing cheap food?

    And yes, it would be nice if everybody could somehow resist their hard-wired instinct to eat more than they need to. But obviously that’s not happening.

  18. Mo,

    You denied the legitimacy of a public/government response to the problem. To the extent that the problem is a consequence of government actions, it is perfectly legitimate to discuss government actions. Even for a libertarian.

    As are as your personal anecdote goes, I’m not claiming that development patterns are sufficient to explain the whole problem. But at the same time, lifestyle changes imposed by the built environment often take a while to become entrenched. Someone raised in a walkable city who moves to sprawl-burbia in his 40s will likely continue, as best he can, his old patterns in the new environment.

  19. Probably because there are many problems that children have that are caused at least in part by other things.

    And its the parent’s job to deal with, or help their children deal with, these other things.

    This ain’t rocket science, folks.

  20. Thoreau,

    If you eliminated subsidies to agriculture you would lower the price of food not raise it. The supports exist to create an artificially high price for commodities to keep farms profitable. Get rid of the susidies and trade bariers and allow unrestricted imports of food and food would be cheaper. I consider that a good thing, but many people do not. There is a lot of talk about the “irresponsible” pricing of food. There are serious people who beleive the problem in this country is that food is too cheap and poor people can get too much of it and get fat. The sollution in their mind is to raise the price of food so poor people will eat less and be less fat.

  21. The obesity problem illustrates a generally ignored problem with free market innovation – what happens when we get too good at producing cheap food?

    Tragically enough, the first thing that tends to happen is that fewer people starve to death.

    [/sarcasm]

  22. “And its the parent’s job to deal with, or help their children deal with, these other things.”

    Actually, if it is the govenrment’s actions that are causing the problem, it is the government’s (and by extension, the public that empowers and controls it) responsibility to act.

    Do you always argue that it is individuals’ job to “deal with” the problems created by the government? Or only when you might kinda sorty be agreeing with a hippie?

  23. “Actually, if it is the govenrment’s actions that are causing the problem, it is the government’s (and by extension, the public that empowers and controls it) responsibility to act.”

    How the hell is the government causing the problem? I don’t care how the damned neighborhood is zoned, that is no excuse for eating too much and not exercising. Is the government banning public exercise? Is the government mandating people eat the entire huge portions of food given at restaurants? If not, then you have to have a pretty strained view of causality in order to beleive that the government is causing the problem.

  24. Hey guys,

    I have, as ever, absolutely nothing useful to add but, with a certain slice of relevance, want to let you know about the trousers I bought yesterday.

    They’re called ‘stretchy panse’ and they’re the sweetest pair of trousers you ever laid eyes on. The genius is, even though they’re smart and suitable for the workplace, they have an elasticated waste with a stretch facility of up to three inches!

    Now three inches is a whole lot of eating. I dominated at lunch today; two bagels, a milkshake and a chocolate bar but my kindhearted panse moulded to my distended stomach rather than punish me. Usually, I’d have to undo a button, drop my flies and pull down a jumper so people don’t catch a sight of the frank and beans.

    So, in short, over-eating is a problem. Now I’m not sure the Government should weigh in on the issue but perhaps by providing stretch panse to every man, woman and first-born child, they might massage the effects rather than eliminate the cause.

  25. To the extent that the problem is a consequence of government actions, it is perfectly legitimate to discuss government actions.

    Wouldn’t the natural solution be that Government should stay out much more often?

    Unless we solve problems created by Government with more Government. Nothing new here. I don’t know how well this approach has worked besides creating a lot of jobs.

    BTW, whenever I suggest to people that mixed development has a lot going for it, I meet with resistance. So perhaps people need to be told what’s good for them. By Government of course. Which gets us back to the original question whether benign paternalism isn’t a good thing after all.

  26. what happens when we get too good at producing cheap food?

    Man-Boobs.

  27. David is right, and every other issue raised here is somewhat irrelevant as far as obesity in children goes.

  28. joe’s question is legitimate, but it presumes an answer to several logically prior questions; namely, whether the same government that caused or substantially contributed to the creation of the problem is capable of fixing the problem, whether non-governmental solutions are available and equally or more likely of success, and what the likely unintended consequences of further government action are likely to be.

    The thrust of Dalrymple’s article is the increased abdication of parental responsibility or, if you prefer, its gradual delegation to government and the consequences attendant to that phenomenon. I think it is a legitimate concern largely lost in the thread comments so far. The more we look to government to fix problems, regardless of how they were created, the less we look to ourselves, not only as individuals but as parents, to act responsibly. It would seem to me that even those most enamoured with government as the agent of our social desires would have some misgivings about the increasing extent to which that has become the norm, not only because government cannot solve all of our problems or satisfy all of our desires but also because of the sort of people we want to be and want our children to be.

  29. And its the parent’s job to deal with, or help their children deal with, these other things.

    This ain’t rocket science, folks.

    True enough, but what happens when parents are unable or unwilling to do so?

  30. which require buildings to be set far off the road with huge, unwelcoming parking lots in front, discourage people fromt walking.

    So you’re suggesting the zoning be changed to engineer people, exactly the opposite of what you said in another thread that zoning is supposed to NOT do. If you can’t make up your mind, then there’s really no value in your suggestions.

  31. There’s a difference between “government should stop mandating things like sprawl zoning which contribute to fatness” and “government should mandate things which might reduce fatness.”

    I’d oppose sprawl zoning laws even if everyone in the suburbs was whip-thin. But what about places like Manhattan, which also has its share of fat people despite many opportunities for a non-sedentary lifestyle? A fat Manhattanite is fat by choice. So should the government say “well, some people are just gonna be fat,” or should government try to legislate it away, by reducing the number of fast-food restaurants allowed in a neighborhood, or taxing fatty food?

    I of course prefer the hands-off solution.

  32. “I don’t care how the damned neighborhood is zoned, that is no excuse for eating too much and not exercising. Is the government banning public exercise?”

    What a fun game! Can I play?

    I don’t care if the government is taking houses left and right, that’s no excuse for spending too much on home renovations. Is the government requiring people to take out equity lines greater than their house’s value?

    I don’t care if the government is widening neighborhoods streets into four-lane highways, that’s no excuse for not teaching your kids to look both ways. Is the government banning caution when crossing the street?

    I don’t care if the government is creating a violent black market through the prohibition of alcohol, that’s no excuse for not making the facade of your building bulletproof. Is the government banning ballistic glass?

    Here’s one you’ll like – I don’t care if the government is depressing the economy with the progressive income tax, that’s no excuse for not working hard enough to afford a home. Is the government banning getting a second job?

    John’s answer is, apparently, yes, it is individuals’ responsibility to clean up the messes created by government actions.

  33. DA,

    Why did you write a post about the problems with further expansions of government in response to my suggestion that the result may be found in retrenchment of government?

  34. A fat Manhattanite is fat by choice

    Not true! They might have bad genes. Gees, you can be so insensitive….

  35. i think joe’s been hitting the bottle a little early today.

  36. Joe,

    That is crazy. The government only created the mess if people are not responsible for thier actions. I grew up in the suburbs, I am not fat. To say that the government is responsible is to say that people are victims and just can’t help themselves. I hate that attitude. In response to your examples, I don’t understand the first one at all. The second one, yes, if they build a highway in my front yard, it is still my fault if I let my kid go out and play in it. Yes, Joe, if a drug dealer shoots me tommorow, he is still a murderer and responsible for my death, not the drug laws.

  37. joe,
    True, it is legitimate to try and find out what caused this epidemic. Including government intervention. However, there were a lot of cases prior to the 90s where people lived in low density area because they were forced to by environment, due to population density, rather than legislation. There wasn’t a problem of obesity in America’s small towns or rural areas then.

    I thing a big part of it, that people are avoiding is the increase of women in the workplace. People eat out or eat quick and ready to eat foods far more today than they did a couple of decades ago. This is due to cheap prepared food and less time due to more members of the household working all the time. When mom made dinner, you generally had more well rounded meals over the course of a week and weren’t likely to have fried food or fatty meat every day. By going out to eat in restaurants and fast food joints there’s less of a chance that people are going to have well rounded diets. I don’t see how geverment is at fault here. It’s not like they can legislate the day longer.

  38. I have, as ever, absolutely nothing useful to add

    A common problem among Marks.

    I dominated at lunch today; two bagels, a milkshake and a chocolate bar

    You call that domination? Piker.

    And I can do you one better on the pants: mine have adjustable straps to vary the waist size. I call them buffet straps.

  39. joe:

    A legitimate objection, given your original post, and I must confess I was thinking primarily of your statement “[t]o the extent that the problem is a consequence of government actions, it is perfectly legitimate to discuss government actions” as a more general call for government solutions.

    Before I apologize too abjectly, however, is it fair to assume that you think zoning is in general a good idea and that the problem here (or, better, one of the problems) is that we just don’t have the zoning tweaked the right way and so your suggested improvement is basically to change from one sort of zoning scheme to another?

  40. joe:

    It’s not that we(or at least I) wouldn’t like the government to solve the problem, it’s that we have zero faith of it being competent enough to do so. Especially if it means repealing laws. Really now, how often do governments reduce themselves?

  41. 1. Let me offer my thanks for posting on a subject that fascinates me on a day I’m home with a cold. If I can’t sleep due to a combination of drainage, coughing fits, and pseudephedrine, at least I can pontificate.

    2. Base on my own entirely local observations of my own kids and their friends, I have concluded that childhood obesity is an amazingly complicated problem. (People get paid lots of money to mouth stuff like that on TV, so don’t point out that I’ve stated something any idiot can see for herself.) For one thing, genetics really does play a significant role. All of us are hard-wired to want fat and sugar, and equally hard-wired to prefer dozing on the sofa to working out. Those of us whose families came from extraordinarily harsh environments, like the Pima Indians, have strong genetic tendencies to store every extra calorie we get. Biology moves much slower than industry.

    Having said that, I also think that the definition of “obesity” isn’t all that good. Some people look fat but have excellent health, and some people look slim and gorgeous but only get that way be being chain smoking herion addicts. (See any edition of US Weekly.) So before we do anything, we need to find out what at what point fat causes harm, and whether that point varies too much between people for any social policy to make a difference.

    Once we leave the general subject of human biology and proceed to the social aspects of this problem, things get really complicated, and, as so often happens, the problem changes as you move up and down among classes. Even something as easy as “get more exercise” suddenly becomes a problem. I live in a new neighborhood in SW Austin, Texas, which has lots of parks, sidewalks, bike lanes, and no crime to speak of. Even at that, we drove tons because until May, the closest grocery store was six miles away across a freeway. Now we have a shopping center within easy walking distance, which has both a playground and an ice cream parlor. (This ad paid for by the Austin, Texas Real Estate Association.) We also have lots of trees and places to sit down when we get hot. Anyway, it’s easy for us to get out and exercise often, and whoever said that soccer practice twice a week doesn’t replace daily running around is quite correct.

    In other neighborhoods, even really nice ones, there are structural barriers unrelated to government policy to getting exercise. If I lived in Tarrytown, the toniest neighborhood in Austin and close to downtown, I wouldn’t let the boys play in the front yard or walk to the park because the traffic is a plague of Biblical proportions. No crime, just idiots who drive 50 in 35 m. zones.

    Go a little further down the social ladder and you get problems with crime. Addressing crime is the most basic of government responsibilities, but even that gets complicated. Think “War on Drugs” and what happens in some neighborhoods when the cops arrive. Walking around a drug market is stupid on lots of levels. In addition, at least here in Texas, bad neighborhoods don’t have lots of trees, sidewalks, or benches on which to rest, and in our blistering climate, heat is a real obstacle to exercise. (Jacob Sullum, please do not do the Yankee and play tennis at 4 p.m. in Dallas. Parkland has a very efficient emergency room, but don’t try it out for yourself.)

    All of this is an unbelievable long-winded way of saying that there are lots of questions to be answered on this issue before we do anything, and no one seems to be asking any of these questions.

  42. All of this is an unbelievable long-winded way of saying that there are lots of questions to be answered on this issue before we do anything, and no one seems to be asking any of these questions.

    That because people want an easy solution where they don’t have to make any changes. Blaming Count Chocula is both easy and possibly actionable. An all-American solution.

  43. Karen,

    Having lived in Central Texas for nearly 8 years of my life, unless you throw your kids out of bed at 6:30 a.m. every day, I don’t see how anyone could exercise at all in that climate from about mid May to about mid October. I never thougth you could get cabin fever in the summer from living in the air conditioning until I moved to Texas.

  44. That because people want an easy solution where they don’t have to make any changes

    This was the exact point I was making about stretch panse.

  45. “And yes, it would be nice if everybody could somehow resist their hard-wired instinct to eat more than they need to. But obviously that’s not happening.”

    No obesity in the gulags, I’ll bet.

  46. You know mediageek, if you think about a soviet work camp, with the hard work, fresh air, clean living, no drugs, no alchohol working for the common good on approved government public works projects every day, it really is kind of the ideal life for a lot of the nannystaters.

  47. That because people want an easy solution where they don’t have to make any changes

    First, of course people want easy solutions to their problems. Why wouldn’t they?

    Second, it seems that banning or regulating certain foods would be a very difficult solution that would cause many, many changes.

  48. John, the climate is why we have a membership at the YMCA. Texas is the only place on Earth where indoor pools are more popular in the summer than the winter. That, and the fact that mold spores and pollen qualify as bio weapons down here. I’ve lived in Texas all my life and my allergies have only gotten WORSE as the years go by.

    On a more serious point, I realized after the drugs began to take effect that I could say what I wanted in a couple of sentences: Obesity has many causes and many effects. Until we have a better grasp of those facts, we can’t make any policy recommendations, either public or private.

  49. While I agree that there are genetic as well as social elements involved in the extra weight, I still think that it comes down to one thing: portion control. Your body only stores the extra energy if you consume more than you burn, regardless of your body-type or what foods you actually eat – fats, sugars, or whatever. Energy can’t be created or destroyed. It can only change forms. Some people might be more predisposed to storing it but it’s still an over/under propostion. We’re eating more and we’re less active as a society.

    And much of the rest of the world wishes that they had enough food available to them so that they could begin having an obesity problem…

  50. The more we look to government to fix problems, regardless of how they were created, the less we look to ourselves, not only as individuals but as parents, to act responsibly.

    I’m not so sure I agree with that. Adults today feel tremendous pressure to supervise everthing their kids do, a form of extreme responsibility. Basically kids have had their freedom severely restricted and they’re pretty much reduced to confined spaces so adults can keep an eye on them. It would be a miracle if the kids weren’t getting fatter.

  51. Okay, I’ll be the one to say it: I deny that there is a problem. People are fatter. Big deal. You don’t want to be fat? Exercise more, eat less. Where’s the problem?

  52. “No obesity in the gulags, I’ll bet.

    Comment by: mediageek at July 13, 2006 11:10 AM

    You know mediageek, if you think about a soviet work camp, with the hard work, fresh air, clean living, no drugs, no alchohol working for the common good on approved government public works projects every day, it really is kind of the ideal life for a lot of the nannystaters.

    Comment by: John at July 13, 2006 11:20 AM”

    heh.

    “Holiday in Cambodia”
    (You’ll work harder with a gun in your back/ for a bowl a rice a day/ slave for soldiers until you starve/ and your head is put on a stake)

  53. joe,

    you are being dishonest. The government has not caused the problem of obesity. The zoning examples you have given may have contributed or enabled, but ultimately the responsibility and the cause of the problem is the parents and their lack of parenting.

    I grew up in a suburb with quite a bit of sprawl — nothing was walking distance — and I rode my bike (like most kids in the suburbs do) for short distances, but had to get rides longer distances…but where did I get rides to?? The basketball courts, the baseball fields, etc….where I then went out and excersized. I also didn’t have soda in my house (unless company was coming over) and I was hardly ever allowed to eat McD’s or other fast food.

    If though, I prefered video games to sports, my parents had lots of soda and I ate a lot of fast foods, i probably would have been an overweight child. None of those decisions were even remotely affected by the gov’t and its regulations.

    So do you want to give an a real example of how the government has actually caused this — instead of giving BS examples that at their worst were enabling. I mean its one thing to believe like Dan T. does that gov’t has a responsibility to help those who refuse help themseleves, but you lost all credibility when you say things like “the government caused this problem, so it shouldn’t be the individual’s responsibility to solve it” The cause of this problem is parents who don’t teach and enforce proper diets for their children or keep an eye on the physical welfare of their children.

    And again…because some kids are fat, it is really debatable whether this qualifies as a public health issue. Bad decisions about diet aren’t contagious, nor is it unobvious what the solution is : watch what you eat and excersize more…but sadly, most people don’t want to be bothered….and that should be their right…and my tax dollars shouldn’t be wasted trying to not only drag the horse to water—but to try and force him to drink via authoritarian measures.

  54. “You know mediageek, if you think about a soviet work camp, with the hard work, fresh air, clean living, no drugs, no alchohol working for the common good on approved government public works projects every day, it really is kind of the ideal life for a lot of the nannystaters.”

    John, the problem, of course, is that the nannystaters have no desire to be the ones getting anything done in the Gulags, either.

    They just stand around with rifles slung over their shoulders, and busting a cap into the occassional uppity slave.

  55. I think neighborhood density is a factor in childhood obesity. But I’m refering to the density of other kids.

    A year a go I lived in an area with almost no kids – which is a typical mostly white suburb. My kids spent a lot of time on the video games because there wasn’t anything to do. Now I live in an area that’s probably at least hlf Hispanic, which means lots and lots of kids. Now they spent a lot of time outdoors playing. My oldest who was getting pudgy has lost all the extra fat.

  56. It?s hard for a parent to win with Libertarians. Half the time we?re too obsessed with children, dressing them up in bicycle helmets and refusing to let them leave the house or eat anything tasty.

    The other half of the time we?re slackers, not keeping them on a short enough leash or expecting society to actually be concerned about them from time to time.

  57. It?s hard for a parent to win with Libertarians. Half the time we?re too obsessed with children, dressing them up in bicycle helmets and refusing to let them leave the house or eat anything tasty.

    The other half of the time we?re slackers, not keeping them on a short enough leash or expecting society to actually be concerned about them from time to time.

  58. Also, lets not blame video games for too much.

    Ok, so, aged 14 i might have had boobs before a lot of the girls in my class but goddamed Zelda showed me what it meant to be a man. To be a hero.

    To be Link and to restore peace to Hyrule!

  59. None of those decisions were even remotely affected by the gov’t and its regulations.

    I’d say nearly ALL of them were.

    1) Why were there so few public areas to play basektball such that you needed rides to the parks? Sureley the government had something to do with the number and locations of the parks.

    2) People my age who have children have a major concern that if a child shows up to school with cuts and bruises than child abuse/neglect is the culprit and the parents will be investigated for “lack of parentla responsibility”. As a result parents are over-protective and over-responsible for their kids. 35 years ago the typical parental responsibilty was “Let me know where you’re going and be home for lunch.” The concern was never that the kids had adult supervision at all times; we’d typically be at the park half a mile from home where there were basically no adults around, but if we didn’t get home by a certain hour the parents would show up to see if anything bad happened. I don’t know any parents today who let their kids farther than shouting distance.

    3) I remember being chased off school playgrounds in the summer when school wasn’t in session because the school did not want any responsibility for any injuries. To think that there’s some kind of decline in personal responsibility doesn’t jive with experience. We’ve basically redefined childhood accidents as parental neglect and parents are all too cognizant of that. If any responsibilities have been lessened, it’s been the child’s own personal responsibility which has been completely shifted to adults. And that’s been going on for decades. I remember plying baseball during recess in first grade, and by sixth grade the same school had outlawed baseball during recess because some kid who wasn’t playing didn’t look where she was going and got hit with a ball.

  60. It?s hard for a parent to win with Libertarians. Half the time we?re too obsessed with children, dressing them up in bicycle helmets and refusing to let them leave the house or eat anything tasty.

    Dan, you see the difference between a parent being obsessed with his/her kid’s behavior / safety v. demanding that the state put rules in place to force all parents to have the same level of obsession?

    Speaking as someone who is a proud liberal and not a libertarian, I think most libertarians don’t have any issue with a parent obesessed with their kids safety, but when they get obsessed with OTHER PEOPLE’s kids safety and start demanding that there outta be a law.

    The other half of the time we?re slackers, not keeping them on a short enough leash or expecting society to actually be concerned about them from time to time.

    This goes quite nicely with the above point I made…those same idiots demanding that there outta be a law, or there should be restrictions for everyone because they personally can’t be bothered to do what’s right voluntarily are slackers.

    No one has a problem with parents overly concerned about their kids safety / welfare — the problem is when parents and people demand that the government regulate what people are allowed to eat and how play and live. If you don’t see the difference, then lets stop talking. That is not the appropriate role for government. If they want to provide assitance after a problem has occured, thats fine, but to control people’s behavior because some people aren’t doing things “the right way” is communism

    (although it is funny to see how paranoid people are, esp when you consider how most of those same parents grew up just fine without the same level of scrutiny

  61. The other half of the time we?re slackers, not keeping them on a short enough leash

    Don’t pin that on libertarians. If anything, libertarians are of the belief that liberty is just as good for kids as it is for adults.

  62. It?s hard for a parent to win with Libertarians.

    Don’t worry dude, no one can win with Libertarians. They’re smartypanse.

    My advice is not to listen to them. They’re just showing off.

  63. Russ, not really…
    I’d say nearly ALL of them were

    Why were there so few public areas to play basektball such that you needed rides to the parks? Sureley the government had something to do with the number and locations of the parks.

    There were quite a few parks (those I walked or rode my bike to) but when I was basketball, the league controlled where I played. I also played at the courts close to my house, but sadly that wasn’t where my league played so I had to get a ride. Every subdivision had a park / playground and open fields in my suburb. So in fact I would say the government did a pretty good job of providing an opportunity to play. Maybe they should have mandated a couple of hours a day for all kids though, eh?? Then some people could say the government is being proactive.

    So I guess, if by “All” you mean 1 out of 3 (please tell me how the government played a role in what foods my mom let me eat, and how much soda was in the house)…then yes, you are so right…all those decisions were the affected by the government.

  64. Russ, you hit an extremely important point. I live in a suburb with lots of kids, all of whom have schedules of a complexity rivaling the Secretary of State’s. It’s a major pain to get playdates for the boys; there’s none of the “Mom, I’m going to see Joseph” that I had as a child. I don’k know what to do about it, but it is a pain.

  65. Dr. Melik [puzzling over list of items sold at a 20th-century health-food store] … wheat germ, organic honey and … tiger’s milk.

    Dr. Aragon: Oh, yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life-preserving properties.

    Dr. Melik: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or… hot fudge?

    Dr. Aragon [chuckling]: Those were thought to be unhealthy … precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.

    Dr. Melik: Incredible!

    (from Sleeper, of course)

  66. Karen,

    I think that playdates and schedules are part of the problem. Don’t kids have any spontaneity anymore?

  67. Chicago Tom – my point was more along the lines that Libertarians paint parents broadly with both brushes simultaniously.

    My bigger complaint however, is the idea that all problems involving kids could be solved only if parents magically better parents.

    That’s true, just like we could get rid of cancer if people just stopping getting cancer.

  68. Russ2000 has it about right. If there is anyone beyond parents and kids responsible for kids being fat is the fucking lawyers and whinny ass parents who killed sand lot sports, playgrounds and undersupervised freedom during childhood.

  69. my point was more along the lines that Libertarians paint parents broadly with both brushes simultaniously.

    Dan, I know what your point was. It was an invalid point that you just pulled out of your ass. Very few people (esp on this board) condemn anyone for being overly safety minded. It’s when they demand state / regulatory solutions for issues that should be a matter of personal responsibility that draws there ire. If you disagree, then please use google on the site and back up your assertions.

    My bigger complaint however, is the idea that all problems involving kids could be solved only if parents magically better parents.

    Not “all” problems, but most.

    We know the causes of obesity. Over-eating and eating bad foods, and lack of appropriate excersize for the amount of calories being taken in. Do you dispute that? So the question becomes how do we get people do eat better and excersize more? Without mandating daily excersize or forbidding foods.

    That’s true, just like we could get rid of cancer if people just stopping getting cancer.

    That’s false.
    Cancer and its causes are much more complex than obesity where the cause is pretty straight forward.

    What would be correct is:
    if we knew that lung cancer was caused by smoking then it would be fair to say “we could get rid of cancer if people would just stop smoking” would it not? Why would obesity be different? The problem is personal responsibility

    Something you seem to find anathema. It’s always up to someone else to save people from themselves.

  70. Tom,

    First off, a league is an adult-supervised activity. I thought we were talking about unsupervised activities.

    Basically my point is that government is trying in most instances to avoid responsibility and instead increase the responsibilities of parents. If anything parents are burdened with more responsibility because there are so many government nannies out there looking for so-called neglect. Geez, I was a kid in the 70’s and had soda and candy every day, I had video games; those things are not new. And I was a skinny runt. But I didn’t have adults feeling they needed to eyeball me every ten minutes, either. Modern parents haven’t forgotten their lack of supervision as children, but they certainly feel pressure (paranoia as you call it) to supervise their kids more closely than they were supervised.

    Where did that need for supervision come from? Certainly our society is more litigious, but that requires governments to actually pass laws that enable more litigation. The public schools are employ more social workers and child psychologists than they did 35 years ago. Government again. We’ve got more government nannies telling people all about the things parents are supposed to be responsible for; we’ve increased responsibilties on parents and to say that parents are becoming more irresponsible just does not jive with any of my experiences AT ALL.

  71. “We’ve got more government nannies telling people all about the things parents are supposed to be responsible for; we’ve increased responsibilties on parents and to say that parents are becoming more irresponsible just does not jive with any of my experiences”

    Russ not only have we increased the responsibilites for parents, we have taken away their authority over children. Try trying to dicipline a child sometime.

  72. My bigger complaint however, is the idea that all problems involving kids could be solved only if parents magically better parents.

    Is that what you think people are saying here, Dan? I thought it more, if parents don’t want their children to (insert “for the children” problem du jour here)then it’s their own responsibilty to change it, rather than expecting society to change to make parenting easier. It’s the same philosophy that makes me think that if I’m too heavy, it’s on me to lay off the Guinness and ice cream, and hit the gym.

    Where did that need for supervision come from?

    It’s the “There are no accidents, only (negligent acts/preventable injuries)” school of thought. It leads to people actively worrying about 1 in million chances and trying to eliminate all risk from life. There’s also the idea that any injury physical, emotional, or psychological suffered during childhood leaves lifelong trauma. Mix these two concepts and you have people terrifed of anything that has the potential to go wrong.

  73. Dan, if you think parents are in a poor position to solve their own kid’s problems, why would you think the government is on a better position? It lacks both the incentive and the proximity to be more effective than parents. Saying that some parents suck is no argument; when you have a perfect solution to all problems, we’ll be all ears.

  74. If the police go knocking on doors to inform the residents that a sex offender has moved into an undiscolsed address in the neighborhood, do you think parents are apt to let their children play outside more, less, or about the same?

  75. What would be correct is:
    if we knew that lung cancer was caused by smoking then it would be fair to say “we could get rid of cancer if people would just stop smoking” would it not? Why would obesity be different? The problem is personal responsibility

    Ironically, the government has taken the lead in anti-smoking efforts over the last few decades, and we’ve seen a significant decline in the number of smokers, which means at least in that sense people are healthier.

    So government action worked where the dogma of personal responsibility failed. Go figure.

  76. First off, a league is an adult-supervised activity. I thought we were talking about unsupervised activities

    Russ, I don’t know what you were talking about or to whom, but you responded to my post. My post at no point specified whether the activities were supervised or not. So any assumptions you draw come from your own mind, not my words.

    2nd, the point of my post was to show that gov’t had little to no influence on my choices as to whether I would eat junk foods, drink soda with lots of sugar, consume empty calories via candy bars etc, or choose staying indoors and being sedentary vs going out and being active. The point being that if my parents didn’t refuse to buy the crap foods and drink that I wanted and didn’t force me to go outside and play, I could have easily been a fattie kid growing up. And deciding what I eat and drink is my parent’s responsibility, not the governments.

  77. Ironically, the government has taken the lead in anti-smoking efforts over the last few decades, and we’ve seen a significant decline in the number of smokers, which means at least in that sense people are healthier.

    Except that the rise in obseity rates almost exactly corresponded with the decline in smoking.

    Dan, it sounds like you’re arguing that one purpose of government is to make sure every individual makes or is forced into the proper choices to maximize health at the expense of all else. Has it ever occurred to you that one, this is not the government’s job; and two, maybe some people view quality of life over quantity of life?

    Christ, an indoor cat lives longer than an outdoor one, but who’s to say which one gets more enjoyment out of life? My own personal goal is to live my life, not preserve it. And fuck the government for trying to force otherwise.

  78. Dan, it sounds like you’re arguing that one purpose of government is to make sure every individual makes or is forced into the proper choices to maximize health at the expense of all else.

    That’s not at all what I’m saying. That’s just what any government programs sounds like to libertarian ears.

    My position is that we need to find balance between such things as freedom, health, security, etc.

  79. Has it ever occurred to you that one, this is not the government’s job; and two, maybe some people view quality of life over quantity of life?

    Jennifer: Best post ever.

  80. How did health get into the liberty/security mix?

    In any case does this balance have to come from top down? Can each person find his own balance? Or should people be allowed to determine their own balance only if it matches what the top dpwn version would be? Sort of a “You do have a choice. You can choose X or choose to be in violation” system.

  81. I dominated at lunch today; two bagels, a milkshake and a chocolate bar

    Is that supposed to be impressive, Twiggy? Slap a double beef patty and some cheese between those two bagels and we’ll talk.

  82. “Christ, an indoor cat lives longer than an outdoor one, but who’s to say which one gets more enjoyment out of life? My own personal goal is to live my life, not preserve it. And fuck the government for trying to force otherwise.”

    God Damn it Jennifer, shut the hell up, use your litter box and stop trying to run out the door everytime I open it.

  83. And stop eating the houseplants to!!

  84. My position is that we need to find balance between such things as freedom, health, security, etc.

    And the central problem with that statement is the implicit notion that there is one balance that is right for everyone and that the likes of you either know what it is or are capable of figuring it out and are entitled to impose it on anyone who disagrees.

    By contrast, the central premise of libertarianism is that, having provided that minimum required security through government which cannot otherwise be provided, people should be left the hell alone to decide how to balance that almost endless list of et ceteras.

  85. We’ve got more government nannies telling people all about the things parents are supposed to be responsible for; we’ve increased responsibilties on parents and to say that parents are becoming more irresponsible just does not jive with any of my experiences AT ALL.

    Russ-

    I have no reason to doubt what you say (it jives with my own anecdotal observations), but once those kids leave the nest to go to college there are some parents (no, not all) who think that a lawsuit is the way to address a bad grade. I’ve heard similar things about high schools.

    It’s no surprise to me that more protective parents are also more pushy parents when dealing with teachers. I do feel sorry for good people who are simply trying to comply with the dizzying array of precautions that they are expected to follow these days, but I have no regard for the people who bring their lawyers everywhere.

    I suspect that some parents are probably more protective in response to those parents: If you know there are parents who bring their lawyers everywhere, then you have to be far more cautious about your kids playing with other kids, and other kids coming to your house.

  86. Okay, I’ll be the one to say it: I deny that there is a problem. People are fatter. Big deal. You don’t want to be fat? Exercise more, eat less. Where’s the problem?

    Brian, get out of my head.

    So the f*ck what? So kids are fat. So your neighbors are fat. (actually, Americans are only 8 pounds heavier, on average, than they were in 1950. But why let the facts get in the way of a good hand-wringing, joe and Dan T?) I have yet to hear a coherent, prejudice- (or outright hatred) and sentiment-free argument for why in hell it should cause you so much harm that people around you are fat.

    My own personal goal is to live my life, not preserve it. And fuck the government for trying to force otherwise.

    Ezackly.

  87. “I have yet to hear a coherent, prejudice- (or outright hatred) and sentiment-free argument for why in hell it should cause you so much harm that people around you are fat.”

    Because zero entilement, everyone should look and act exactly the same and live the proscribed healthy lifestyle, that is why. I will tell you the same thing I told Jennifer, get back in the house and stop eating the house plants!!

  88. Ironically, the government has taken the lead in anti-smoking efforts over the last few decades, and we’ve seen a significant decline in the number of smokers, which means at least in that sense people are healthier.

    So government action worked where the dogma of personal responsibility failed. Go figure.

    Would this be the same government beholden to the tobacco lobby and dishing out tobacco subsidies?

    Nevertheless, post hoc ergo propter hoc, Danny Boy.

  89. My own personal goal is to live my life, not preserve it. And fuck the government for trying to force otherwise.

    Bingo!

  90. My post at no point specified whether the activities were supervised or not. So any assumptions you draw come from your own mind, not my words.

    That’s exactly why I wrote “I thought” rather than “You said”.

    And deciding what I eat and drink is my parent’s responsibility, not the governments.

    You keep bringing up diet when kids’ caloric intake is essentially unchanged from 35 years ago. So we’re basically in the realm of physical activity. But do you think social workers tell the parents “You should let you kid go out and play more?” Hell no, they tell them “You should sign your kid up for more athletic activities.”

    Fat kids know they’re fat, their parents know they’re fat. If neither the kids nor the parents are complaining, why are outsiders trying to force certain behaviors on them and classifying them as responsibilities?

  91. Jeezus people! Just start taunting you kids by calling them “fatty, fatty, boom-balatty” and I guarantee they will lose a few pounds. Also, it couldn’t hurt to kick them out of the house every now and again.

    RE: Government intervention. Not sure exactly how I feel about this, but here (Anchorage, AK) we have bike paths that interconnect most of the parks and a creekside “greenbelt”. All government built and maintained with my tax money. Granted, I don’t use them as much as I probably should (I am the Original American Fatass) but they do help increase the outdoor activity of people in this town.

  92. If you’re from Alaska, it was probably our taxes.:)

  93. …stop eating the house plants!!

    Well, if you’d quit growing those big healthy cannabis plants, we might do better at staying out of them. Dammit, I’ve got the munchies again…

  94. Cleanhands,

    That is for MY PRIVATE USE and not for public consumption!! It is for medicinal purposes not for recreation!!

  95. ‘Sokay, John. I’m just finishing up that batch of brownies you made… ooops.

  96. And the central problem with that statement is the implicit notion that there is one balance that is right for everyone and that the likes of you either know what it is or are capable of figuring it out and are entitled to impose it on anyone who disagrees.

    True enough, but for society to function we have to determine collectively what that balance should be.

    And, unfortunately, we do have to impose this balance on people who disagree with it sometimes. Unless you really think that somebody who wants to steal your car should be allowed to because you don’t want to “impose” your rules on him?

  97. Conflating car theft with caloric intake? Really, Dan, compare those two things and see what you have. In one instance someone inflicts a harm on unwilling victim. In the other we have a person exposing himself to possible increased risk of non-contageous illness after many years.

  98. Dan’s so fucking addled he can’t even tell the difference.

    Probably his gov’t-school education.

  99. Bless you Dan… you are so mercifully free from the ravages of intelligence…

  100. Dan, libertarians generally believe that coercion by the state should be reserved for instances when there is clear harm to a person’s life or property by another person. Until you prove what exactly a fat person has done that has taken from you or harmed you by being fat, their caloric intake doesn’t meet that standard.

  101. Unless you really think that somebody who wants to steal your car should be allowed to because you don’t want to “impose” your rules on him?

    Somebody who steals my car is actually causing me harm and loss, Dan. The McFattersons down the street from you are causing you no more than a fleeting blight as they pass your window.

  102. “Until you prove what exactly a fat person has done that has taken from you or harmed you by being fat, their caloric intake doesn’t meet that standard.”

    Medicare…Medicaid…indigent care at the hospital…

    Now, of course, these harms require that the government programs are in place to begin with, but…think of it as harm reduction…

  103. Conflating car theft with caloric intake? Really, Dan, compare those two things and see what you have. In one instance someone inflicts a harm on unwilling victim. In the other we have a person exposing himself to possible increased risk of non-contageous illness after many years.

    Read my post again. The point is that all of us want to impose our views onto society – we just disagree on what those views are.

  104. Even though this thread is getting old…

    Two above-the-fold articles at Slate
    http://www.slate.com/id/2145689/nav/tap1/
    http://www.slate.com/id/2145688/nav/tap2/

    Contain all the necessary elements to help the push to more government:
    The children, the oh-so-compassionate slightly whiny language, new studies galore, apparent reasonableness, plenty personal anecdotes and finally the enivitable conclusion, the grudging call for regulation.

  105. Supervised play, such as youth sports leagues, which has its uses, is no substitute for unstructured, unsupervised play. Not only does the latter tend to last longer and contain fewer periods of sitting around while you either wait your turn to play or listen to a lecture from an adult, but it encourages kids to think for themselves and learn how to settle their own disputes.

    My folks kept me on a strict leash as a kid, too. This might have been an artifact of my being one of 9 siblings, so keeping track of us all was a chore for the parentals. Still, when I was old enough I could ride my bike nearly anywhere I wanted, as long as I let Mom or Dad know what I was up to. Sometimes permission was denied, and I will admit that my “trip to the library” was often extended to include a cross-town hunt for the current week’s batch of comic books, with perhaps a stop at the local pharmacy whose soda fountain made the best egg creams.

    Cycling over hell-and-gone was fun, but for some reason it didn’t keep me from being chubby. Half of my immediate family tends to pack on weight, while the others tend to be leaner. Not surprisingly, my Dad’s people tend to be slimmer than my Mom’s. I walk around my city neighborhood quite a bit, but, while I’m sure it does me good, I still need to drop a few stone. Maybe if my favorite shops and taverns were further apart I’d get my bike out of storage!

    Very few kids come from large families anymore, especially not middle-class white kids from small towns and/or suburbs. One was never at a loss for a playmate, barring the inevitable tendency of older brothers to try to ditch younger ones when they aren’t convenient to have around. Other kids from the neighborhood knew that if they were bored they could always roll into our backyard and probably find some kind of game in progress, or a few of us up to getting one going.

    I also encountered the “Hey, you kids! Stop playing on the playground!” idiocy during weeks when the public schools were out of session. As the 60s wore on, more of the empty lots in our town were developed, making spots to play pick-up baseball or football harder to find. That didn’t stop us from squeezing a field into our yards, even if that required some strange ground rules.(Ex: fly balls over the short “right field” fence dividing our property ftom the neighbor’s were ground rule doubles, not home runs. Break a window and you are out.) Halfcourt basketball was an almost constant pasttime, though. Just about everyone had a hoop in their driveway, and with three brothers we played 2-on-2 frequently. When a few friends came over we could go 3-on-3 or 4-on-4. Three of my sisters played on their H.S. teams,and we had some good co-ed games, too.

    Bringing this back to the question of government regulations, I wonder if the “smart growth” activists who want higher density ever consider the bad effect that having yards too small for kids to play in energetically has them. If the only place you can play baseball or football is the park, and when you go there all the playing fields are taken by Little League or soccer league practice, I guess plopping down on the couch for an extended Madden session makes sense. (Mandatory libertarian disclaimer: no, I don’t think we should mandate 1-acre lots.)

    Kevin

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