Help! I've Reached the Obesity Tipping Point, and I Can't Get Up!


Before I tell you about the latest announcement from the the STOP Obesity Alliance, let me take a few sentences to remark on how dumb the name of this organization is. STOP stands for "Strategies to Overcome and Prevent," which adds absolutely nothing to the public's understanding of what the group is about, serving only as an excuse to put stop in capital letters, which apparently is something the alliance's leaders really, really wanted to do. Compounding the stupidity, the group's logo reads "STOP Strategies to Overcome and Prevent Obesity Alliance," which makes it sound as if the alliance is promoting obesity.

That may not be too far from the truth. The alliance's major financial backers, as the tiny print at the bottom of its homepage informs us, are sanofi-aventis and Amylin Pharmaceuticals, both manufacturers of weight loss drugs. That does not mean we should automatically reject whatever the STOP Obesity Alliance has to say about the magnitude of the "obesity epidemic" and the importance of fighting it with taxpayer money, but the organization should be treated at least as skeptically as an oil company talking about global warming or a corn farmer extolling the benefits of ethanol. Keep that in mind the week after next, when the alliance plans to release "a concise set of obesity-specific recommendations to help guide policymakers' efforts to effectively address obesity, citing actionable solutions for improvement based on Alliance principles." (I assume that one of those principles is coverage of weight loss drugs by taxpayer-supported health insurance.) The event will feature two former surgeons general, Richard Carmona and David Satcher, who will "explore whether America has reached its tipping point on obesity."

I admit that I'm intrigued. Not only don't I know whether America has reached its obesity tipping point; I don't even know what that means. It sounds like what happens to a fat guy when he leans forward too much, but probably it's more like the point of no return beyond which everyone in the country will look like the floating blimps in WALL-E. If that's what Carmona and Satcher intend to talk about, I admire their chutzpah, especially in light of recent data indicating that weight trends have leveled off.

Similarly, in the wake of a CDC report indicating that life expectancy at birth continues to rise in the U.S., the STOP Obesity Alliance warns that "we are now facing the first generation of children not expected to live longer than their parents' generation." This claim is a bit less pessimistic than the projection of Yale obesity maven Kelly Brownell, who warns that "today's children may be the first in American history to live shorter lives than their parents" because "the food industry is granted free and unencumbered access" to them. Still, the STOP Obesity Alliance's emphasis on the life-shortening effects of extra pounds seems inconsistent with its concern about health care costs ("obesity costs the nation $147 billion in healthcare costs each year"), since overcoming and preventing obesity would raise medical spending over the long term by extending life spans.

A few weeks ago, I explained why anti-obesity measures in the Senate health care bill won't save taxpayers money.