45 Years, 45 Days: 1970s Fatties


For the next 45 days, we'll be celebrating Reason's 45th anniversary by releasing a story a day from the archives—one for each year of the magazine's history. See the full list here. 

In May 1972, UC Irvine criminologist Gilbert Geis offers an outrageous "fable," in which he satirically proposes that make "overweightedness" illegal. Decades before a "fat tax" became part of the national conversation, Reason saw it coming: 

Quick hits from "The Fable of a Fatty": 

The preeminent necessity for new legislation outlawing obesity is so self-evident that it hardly needs detailed exposition. It has been clearly shown that the overweight person represents a serious health threat, with a potentially shortened life span. The crime may seemingly be one without a "real" victim, but all of us are the victims of the overweight man or women who prematurely deprives us of his company and his talents, not to mention his taxes….

National consideration amply support the call for creation of the new criminal offense and forceful federal and state action against those violators undercutting the virility and vitality of the Nation. Obese persons detract from the war effort. They tend to be sluggish, to indulge in self-satisfied after-meal naps, and more passive pursuits. Research indicates that the obese spend approximately 4% more time at each meal than normal individuals—a finding which, if multiplied out, provides a staggering loss of constructive investment of time and energy. The obese are readily diverted from a task at hand by the nearness of times set aside for food ingestion. Their habits make them particularly vulnerable to enemy blackmail, since they demonstrably lack the will-power and internal strength necessary or self-control so that, tortured by promises of surcease, they will, if permitted to gain positions of trust, divulge those secrets vital to the preservation of our free society. 

It is perhaps not altogether necessary to take cognizance of reports, most of which have not as yet been fully de-classified, that foreign powers may stand behind the flood of high caloric poisons entering out cities and sapping the strength of youth and adult alike. We would urge the creation of a new agency to work alongside the United States Customs Service and the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, an agency which would be charged with the surveillance of imports; among other items, Israeli halvah, Swiss chocolate and Italian spaghetti must be turned aside at the borders, and all conceivable efforts must be undertaken to see that a flourishing underworld traffic in these and similar items does not become established. It goes without saying that it will take the concerted efforts of all federal and local to see that spaghetti, in particular, is kept under tight control, for organizations already exist with a special expertise in the handling of such noxious substances.