Obesity

Who But a Corporate Apologist Would Argue That the Food You Choose to Eat Is a Personal Matter?

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On Sunday the Hartford Courant published an op-ed piece in which Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale, explains why the size of your butt is the government's business. To his credit, after years of arguing with me and other libertarians, Brownell finally acknowledges a difference between protecting people from risks imposed on them by others, such as polluters and carriers of deadly pathogens, and protecting people from risks they voluntarily assume "in matters of individual behavior such as smoking, drinking alcohol and eating." Unfortunately, he seems to think the difference is that in the latter case "public health" crusaders like him face opposition from "business interests."

A moment's thought (which Brownell evidently could not spare) shows this distinction makes no sense. Surely operators of smoke-belching power plants and purveyors of dangerous quack remedies count as "business interests." They are nevertheless encompassed by a definition of public health that focuses on external threats.

But Brownell is not interested in analysis so much as ad hominem distractions. He wants to imply that the only opposition to his harebrained schemes for centrally planning food prices, censoring unhelpful speech, and redesigning the world to encourage proper eating habits comes from evil corporations threatened by these obviously necessary and long overdue measures. He laments that "public health authorities urging government involvement in nutrition face intense lobbying from the food companies who claim that government should stay out of people's lives, that individual liberties are at risk, and that failing personal responsibility is the key problem." After all, who but a corporate lobbyist would ever imagine that government efforts to control what we eat impinge upon individual liberties, or that gluttony and sloth have anything to do with individual responsibility? "This debate about personal responsibility and government action is about money," Brownell declares, and he has the proof:

Whether someone exercises is as personal a decision as choosing what to eat. But the food industry, and those who apologize for it by arguing that government should stay out of food decisions, are all for government involvement in physical activity.

Why? No industry stands in the way and the food industry benefits by diverting attention from food to exercise. But the instant government discusses policies that would reduce consumption of things such as junk food and soda, there is all-out combat and record levels of lobbying.

I can't speak for the food industry (although Brownell evidently thinks I do), but I am not "all for government involvement in physical activity." I would object if the government tried to mandate morning calisthenics or, to take an example closer to Brownell's actual proposals, started imposing heavy taxes on products associated with a sedentary lifestyle (cars, TVs, video games, couches) while subsidizing products associated with exercise (bicycles, running shoes, pogo sticks). Nor do I think the government should fight obesity by redesigning cities to encourage walking and biking instead of driving.

I could respond to Brownell's charge of bad faith by noting all the financial interests that benefit from the War on Fat: pharmaceutical companies, diet book publishers, public health bureaucracies, obesity researchers, etc. The research funding and professional success of obesity experts like Brownell depend on alarming people about the threat posed by weighing too much—which may explain why he continues to assert that "today's children could be the first generation in the nation's history to live shorter lives than their parents did," even though the CDC's life expectancy numbers flatly contradict that claim. But you know what? I don't think Brownell is in it for the money. He strikes me as a perfectly sincere public health paternalist who genuinely believes he is fighting to make the world a better place and genuinely doubts that any of his opponents have a similar motivation. That's what makes him scary.

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  1. Whether someone exercises is as personal a decision as choosing what to eat. But the food industry, and those who apologize for it by arguing that government should stay out of food decisions, are all for government involvement in physical activity. [sic]

    Wow – such display of fallacy knocked my socks off. I better get me a Big Mac, just to recuperate from the shock.

  2. From the photos I’ve seen of Brownell he is quite obese himself. I suppose he believes that since he is incapable of avoiding unhealthy foods, the rest of us are as well, and it’s the government’s job to run our lives for us.

    I didn’t see any specific policy recommendations in that article. Just a bunch of gobbledygook.

    1. What gets me is how indirect most of these proposals are. The non-obese eat unhealthy foods and drink soda, but they get punished by the taxes as well. Let’s cut to the chase and adopt my Swiftian proposal: tax the obese directly.

      Require everyone to go to a post office within a week of their birthday. There they take off their shoes, step on a scale, and have their height measured at the same time. They get spotted (say) 10 pounds for clothing. Then they get a BMI reading that they include on their tax return: the higher the BMI, the higher the tax.

      It makes perfect sense, I tell you. Sign up for my newsletter!

  3. All your asses are belong to us.

    1. Wow, color me shocked that some fattie who can’t control himself projects it onto the entire population and wants to control everyone else. Mayor Bloomberg’s salt problem and David Kessler’s inability to say no to chocolate chip cookies come to mind as similar “I have no willpower, so everyone must suffer” tyrants.

  4. “He strikes me as a perfectly sincere … paternalist who genuinely believes he is fighting to make the world a better place and genuinely doubts that any of his opponents have a similar motivation.”

    I believe that describes most authoritarians. At least the ones who aren’t purely in it for themselves.

    Mr. Brownell, mind your own fucking business.

    1. He is in it for himself. You don’t get to be the Executive Director for Control of the American People by being in it for others.

    2. Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

      1. …[A] dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.

        1. Fuck y’all muthafuckas.

  5. During the Obamacare debate lefties claimed everyone predicting this were nutcase ideologues.

    I wish I was suprised it took four seconds for them to switch from “this proves you’re nuts” to “what a great idea”.

    1. You know things are bad when yesterday’s Onion headlines are today’s NYT headlines. A few years ago when all the cigarette bans were passed we smokers told all the fatties “Just wait, they’ll be after your Big Macs next” and of course we were ignored or laughed at.

    2. Kelly Brownell thought this was a great idea before the Obamacare debate.

      While the concerns about govt overreach in the wake of Obamacare are well founded, a powerless goofball writing an article doesn’t prove that it’s happening now.

      1. He was a powerless goofball, before passage. Now he’s writing editorials in comfortably left political strongholds.

        It’s not about the person, it’s how the movement treats the ideas.

      2. You can bet that this powerless goofball has the First Lady’s ear bent.

        FWIW, Time put him on its 2006 most influential people list. Check out the write-up by Mike Huckabee (!)

        http://www.time.com/time/magaz…..41,00.html

        1. Lady Gaga is on the Time most influential people list this year.

          1. Admit it, Tulpa, you’d like to be able to dress like her. But you lack that certain flair needed to pull it off.

  6. The Rudd Foundation is a private, non-profit organization funded in 1998 by Leslie G. Rudd […] proprietor of Dean & DeLuca, Rudd Winery, Edge Hill Estate, PRESS restaurant, Distillery No. 209 and Standard Beverage Corporation, as well as the founder and benefactor of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University

    Look how this generous philanthropist put his altruistic moral interest in public health above his vulgar business interest in hampering the market for cheaper food than he sells.

    Look.

    1. Yeah I wonder if the food police, when they tax or ban sugary soft drinks, will also tax or ban the Starbucks frappucinos, the $100-a-bottle dessert wines, etc that have just as much sugar, but which elitist food snobs enjoy so much.

      1. No, because it’s really about snobbery.

  7. Surely operators of smoke-belching power plants and purveyors of dangerous quack remedies count as “business interests.” They are nevertheless encompassed by a definition of public health that focuses on external threats.

    Not so fast, Jacob. A smoke belching power plant imposes health risks on me regardless of any decisions that I make or don’t make.

    I choose, however, to buy the quack remedy. No one is involuntarily put at risk by quack remedies. Quack remedies are not a public health problem; they are a fraud problem.

    1. I suppose you think that a meat processor that produces tainted meat which is shipped all around the country isn’t a public health problem either.

      After all, the consumer could, with a few weeks of research, figure out where the meat in that hamburger they’re going to eat came from, and check the reputability of every processor in the distribution chain. Of course, the burger isn’t going to taste very good at that point.

      1. I suppose you think that a meat processor that produces tainted meat which is shipped all around the country isn’t a public health problem either.

        That’s a public health problem, because it spreads disease.

        Quack remedies are bad and should be illegal because they are fraudulent. Pollution, bad food, etc. isn’t fraudulent, it just makes you sick.

        See how this works? Public health regulation is the right thing to use to control things that make people sick. Anti-fraud laws are the right thing to use to control fraud.

        1. I would have guessed that the danger in a “dangerous quack therapy” is that it makes you sick.

        2. The problem is that fraud laws are only enforceable after the fact, whereas most public health regulation (such as the USDA inspection regime) is active before the harm is done. There’s no reason quack remedies shouldn’t be prevented BEFORE they make a gullible person sick.

          If fraud laws are sufficient to address quack remedies, then lawsuits against meatpackers after someone dies of botulism should be sufficient to address the issue of tainted meat.

          1. We may be talking at cross purposes about remedies that do harm to you, ie poison you, and remedies that simply don’t work.

            And for the former, quack remedies already fall under those regulations.

      2. Quack remedies are fraudulent. Ie, they make false claims about their health benefits.

        Not everything a libertarian says has to end up with a land depleted of building codes or food safety inspections.

    2. Quack remedies are not a public health problem; they are a fraud problem.

      Quack remedies like that proposed by Kelly Brownell?

      I hear the big fast food chains are interested in ideas like hers.

      1. Err, his.

  8. started imposing heavy taxes on products associated with a sedentary lifestyle (cars, TVs, video games, couches) while subsidizing products associated with exercise (bicycles, running shoes, pogo sticks).

    And of course, in the food half of the equation, government policy actually artificially reduces the cost of meat and corn products like HFCS relative to vegetables and fruits, which runs perfectly counter to the food nanny demands that consumption of those foods be decreased.

    1. Don’t worry, the latest farm bill started subsidizing vegetables and fruits too, thanks to those sorts of concerns from Democrats.

    2. Well that makes about as much sense as tobacco subsidies.

  9. “explains why the size of your butt is the government’s business.”

    No, butt it is my business – and I say there are way too many skinny assed bitches out there – we need a lot more back. From now on, every skinny assed bitch has to eat 3 chalupas for lunch, to get their own chalupa nice and plump.

    You see, its all about values – some want their bitches to live to be old and skinny, and some of us want our bitches to have plenty of cushion in the right now.

    1. Thread winner!

    2. Re: Fresno Dan,

      You should see more Telemundo – those women look like women, real women, and not like concentration camp prisoners.

      1. There’s a happy medium between Kate Moss and J-Lo.

        1. There’s a happy medium between a stake dinner and tofu . . . but I haven’t found it yet.

          1. Steak dinner. A stake dinner is what a vampire is given before he’s killed.

          2. Shrimp.

        2. it’s damn nice here.

        3. J-Lo is the happy medium!

    3. I agree wholeheartedly with fresno dan. On this point, I find it impossible to prevaricate. I suspect that the other gentlemen here will also be incapable of presenting cogent arguments against him.

      1. I concur.

  10. Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale, explains why the size of your butt is the government’s business.

    I will start to really worry when the size of my penis becomes the business of the government…

    1. If the feminists get their way and make sizeism a protected class, maybe the crusade for anti-dick-size-discrimination won’t be far behind.

    2. Haven’t you been following the Stagliano threads?

    3. It already is, Dear. But don’t worry, your mandatory reduction surgery is now free.

      1. Uhh, Nancy, like bypass surgery for anyone over 65, we barred those procedures… they’re medically unnecessary.

  11. That’s what makes him scary

    True believers are definitely more terrifying than those who are nakedly pursuing power and control. They’re not only going to be more doggedly devoted to their pet issue (see what I did there?), they’re also a lot harder to play ball with because their motivations aren’t based in logic. As nasty as it is, a desire for power is something much easier to understand than an emotional, irrational fear of fatties (especially when you ARE one).

    1. That’s true, and those who are just after money are even easier to deal with. Ironically, in the popular mind the scale of relative evil goes in the other direction (ie, “sincere” people are thought to be less bad than people with baser motivations like money and power).

    2. Absolutely true. Game theory usually predicts the behavior of those types, but game theory presupposes rational behavior, a quality missing from the true believer.

    3. And they can’t be bought off or distracted, either. Tougher to bring down with a nice juicy scandal too – I bet Brownell is disgustingly moral and law-abiding. No “I snorted coke off a hooker’s ass” revelations in his future, worse luck.

      1. The hard core moral crusaders are typically most frightened of their own weaknesses. There is always a skeleton in the closet.

        1. His skeleton is probably his secret trips to Mickey Ds for a couple of Big Macs or his special alone time with a package of Chips Ahoy and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

          1. Not that secret, to judge by appearances.

  12. ..are all for government involvement in physical activity.
    I don’t even know what the fuck he’s trying to refer to, here. Can anyone help explain?

  13. You know, I’m going to do a little thread jacking.

    This made me laugh.

    Lebron James + Hulk Hogan NWO Heel-turn = goofy mashup.

  14. Old Mexican …I will start to really worry when the size of my penis becomes the business of the government…

    Actually OM, when I was in DC a few weeks ago someone was out protesting circumsion and the state of the american foreskin in front of the Capitol. Penis regs to follow…

    1. You may recall previous threads on H&R, where there was discussion of circumcision bans, especially bans on religiously-motivated circumcision – in other words, banning the religion of Judaism.

      1. No one wants a back alley bris

      2. No one wants a back alley bris

      3. banning the religion of Judaism.

        You say it like it’s a bad thing.

  15. http://hotair.com/archives/201…..2-polling/

    Interesting polling numbers of various Republicans versus Obama. What is interesting about it is not the numbers. Number this far from the election are useless. But that 9% of the respondents claim not to remember how they voted in 2008. 9%? How can you not remember? I am thinking this has to do more with people not wanting to admit they voted for Obama. By 2012, a third of the country will claim no memory of voting in 2008.

    1. Maybe they were just drunk when they voted. Or old with butterfly ballots.

    2. Too bad they didn’t poll for the eventual nominee, Mitch Daniels. I heard Zogby name him and Christy as favorites the other day. And Christy isn’t running.

      1. Christy has a real chance to be a star. Danials was director of OMB under Bush. That is really going to hurt his ability to campaign on the deficit.

  16. I spent a lot of years teaching my children that violence is not the answer.

    I am willing to make an exception for Kelly D. Brownell.

  17. Hey! How did Reason miss this? (Maybe I was stuffing my piehole when it got covered …)

  18. Anyone else’s mind snap to 1984 when reading the bit about morning calisthenics?

    Anyway. A fat tax isn’t going to solve the “obesity epidemic” in America. Even if you slap a ten percent tax on that box of Twinkies, it’s still cheaper than your average box of 100 calorie Oreo packs. So in addition to the fact that it fails as a deterrent, the fat tax is a pointless attempt to control people’s choices. Which, as I recall, is not the gubmint’s job.

    1. If the legislative reaction to cigarette tax revenue decreases is any indication, deterrence is not the main purpose of such taxes; revenue generation is.

      1. But they’re making the laws to make sure the good, helpless fatties of America don’t get any fatter! They don’t care about revenue, they care about people! Right?

    2. Truth. In my public grade school in Saskachewan when the socialist NDP was in power, we had morning calisthenics. in identical blue denim jumpsuits. With red scarves.

      No joke.

      1. Jeez. By the way, does Canada have an equivalent to the Pledge of Allegiance? Hmm, do people in Quebec have their own?

        1. No. I’ll give Canada that.

  19. If fraud laws are sufficient to address quack remedies, then lawsuits against meatpackers after someone dies of botulism should be sufficient to address the issue of tainted meat.

    The difference is that tainted meat is a quality control problem, the kind of problem that can be prevented with a public health regime of standards and inspections.

    Quack remedies are not a quality control problem, they are a fraud problem. You can’t use production oversight (which is what the USDA does) as a solution to a fraudulent product.

    There’s no reason quack remedies shouldn’t be prevented BEFORE they make a gullible person sick.

    The same can be said of any product or service that can be fraudulently presented. Why limit your regime of government approval before marketing to remedies? Lets have government approval of all products and services, to prevent harm, rather than relying on principles of restitution to remedy harm. What could possibly go wrong?

    1. Your comment will be posted pending verification and validity of content.

  20. Having read Taubes ‘Good Calories Bad Calories’ (and having been very impressed with it) I immediately ask, whenever someone wants to tax ‘products associated with a sedentary lifestyle (cars, TVs, video games, couches)’, whether they include books and magazines. After all, we sit on our butts to read those too, so the poor ‘bookworm’ (remember him?) must be a fattie too, by their theories.

  21. It’s interesting the these public health advocates want the state to control what people eat, but don’t seem to have any interest in teaching people willpower, self-discipline, or self-reliance.

    IMO, a large part of the reason American’s eating habits have declined has been the culture of dependence and lack of responsibility that the welfare state has engendered. People who are brought up to expect other to make decisions for them don’t know how to make their own eating choices, don’t learn how to cook their own food, don’t learn how to shop economically or maintain their own health. They expect others to take care of them.

    But the Public Health lobby seemingly has no desire to tell people “be independent, resist temptation, take control of your own diet”. Instead, they think the government should treat people even more like babies, and restrict their choices.

    Why is that?

    1. “Why is that?”

      The answer is fairly obvious.

    2. I think the whole approach to the obesity epidemic is sadly lacking in facts. If the government wants to reduce obesity, they need to first of all acknowledge that obesity is most closely associated with poverty, and with the lack of access to nutritious foods. There are a lot of obese people out there who buy and consume crappy, fatty, suger-loaded food because its the cheapest food available with the most calories per penny spent.

      Reducing obesity, if that was really the goal of the government, would begin with immediately reducing or eliminating corn subsidies.

  22. sincere public health paternalist who genuinely believes he is fighting to make the world a better place and genuinely doubts that any of his opponents have a similar motivation. That’s what makes him scary.

    No, it makes him evil

  23. When it comes to food safety issues,common issues,especially in China.all in all the merchant should responsible for citizen.

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