93 million fat people are a huge, expensive problem.1 That’s nearly 40% of the U.S. population. This statistic should shock. It doesn’t. So many of us are overweight that fat is practically the norm.
That’s a bad thing for our country. Despite the justifications, rationalizations, and attempts to glamorize obesity as an acceptable and even fashionable personal choice, we know that being fat is not good. We spend lots of money on health care because of what we eat and drink. Chronic disease reduces our life expectancy. The CDC reports that the medical costs from obesity approach $150 billion per year.2
Politics makes personal choice less personal
Politics makes our personal choices subject to Washington’s whims. We live in an era of correctness so ridiculous that, according to the Washington Examiner, San Francisco has changed how it labels criminals to erase the stigma of past bad behavior.
Politics also made corporations the villains in the opioid abuse epidemic. Personal choice is absent from the national discussion on how best punish a pharmaceutical industry already found guilty beyond any possible doubt.
Obese Americans fall into their own hands-off category. Fat-shaming is forbidden as it should be, though ironically other expensive personal choices like cigarette smoking aren’t offered the same tolerance.
Cigarettes are a personal choice we punish
Cigarettes are a problem that’s all about personal choice. 34.4 million make the choice to smoke according to the CDC.3 Our society comes down hard on smoking, so hard in fact that if I wanted to take up cigarettes it’s illegal to smoke inside my home.
Cigarette smoking continues to decline thanks to a massive effort and some absolutely horrifying messaging to curtail this behavior.
We punish choices like smoking that we want to discourage with efforts to control behavior like sin taxes. Vaping is under new political scrutiny, although the numbers reported by House Oversight Subcommittee Chair Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) are infinitesimally small compared to America’s weight problem:
This summer alone, there have been an alarming 22 cases of vaping-related respiratory illnesses in the state of Illinois, and nearly 200 nationwide, and the vast majority of patients were adolescents or young adults.4
While vaping makes it to the headlines, our society indulges and profits from obesity with every excuse in the book. A triple cheeseburger with bacon and foie gras is something to seek out and revel in.
Abusing opioids is a corporate crime. Being fat is just a choice.
Opioids are a political crisis that requires us to overlook personal choice. Instead, we indulge our zeal for punishing the pharmaceutical industry. That’s what we see with the punishment meted out to Johnson & Johnson in Oklahoma.
Pharmaceutical companies are popular political targets. That makes the opioid crisis a political goldmine for punishing corporate America that ignores the issue of personal accountability for drug use.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard accuses “unscrupulous pharmaceutical companies,”5 charging:
Opioid companies have lied, cheated, and profited from the addiction and death left in the wake of the crisis they helped create. The criminal nature of these companies’ actions have destroyed lives and families, and overwhelmed the criminal justice and public health systems,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.6
Profited is the money word. Democrats will use any means possible to divest corporations and the wealthy of their earnings. Drug abusers are as good an excuse as any.
The opioid epidemic numbers reported by Health and Human Services are barely worth a mention compared to the number of obese Americans at risk for a long list of murderous, expensive health problems.7
This is not news. We don’t seem to care. If we did, 93 million Americans would make a choice to not be fat.
Obesity is the worst political issue imaginable
Obesity should also be a political goldmine. This public health problem afflicts tens of millions, maims and kills, and costs the nation billions.
No one wants to touch it for the crisis it is and when we try, we screw it up. Consider how we dealt with trans-fats.
The Federal Government got it incredibly wrong on trans-fats. This is one food item almost everyone agrees we should never put in our bodies. Instead, in 2006 Washington fooled the public into thinking that no trans-fat really means no trans-fat. This is why the FDA still has to remind us:
NOTE: The Nutrition Facts Label can state 0 g of trans fat if the food product contains less than 0.5 g of trans fat per serving.8
If you eat a lot of those servings, the government mandated food labeling that’s supposed to keep you safe can contribute to your death.
If we can’t even get this single issue right, how can the government cope with 93 million fat people?
Majority fat, majority strong
Fat people are approaching a national majority. Politicians don’t want to offend and even if they did, personal choice is a very difficult and very unpopular thing to legislate.
Fat and rich? Not exactly.
One sticking point that’s difficult for at least one Democrat to get around is that fat and rich is a false stereotype. That didn’t stop Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) from posting a reference to “fat, rich white guys” on her congressional website [link subsequently deleted].
That’s the kind of helpful, inclusive language we expect from the party, but the truth is that income and obesity don’t line up the way liberals might hope. For instance, white middle income men are more likely to be obese than those who make more and also those who make less.9
Facts like these make it hard to gain political leverage with obesity.
It’s lucky for Democrats that race and obesity have a lot in common:
Non-Hispanic Blacks had the highest prevalence of obesity (39.0 percent), followed by Hispanics (32.4 percent) and non-Hispanic Whites (29.3 percent).10
Education is important, too. The highest rates of obesity are among those without a high school diploma. On the other hand:
College graduates had the lowest prevalence of obesity (22.7 percent).11
One perplexing fact about obesity is that when it comes to being fat, health insurance coverage doesn’t matter. There isn’t much difference between those with private insurance, those on the Medicaid and Medicare entitlements, and those who don’t have any coverage.12
This makes legislating against fat very difficult. We can’t punish obesity with higher insurance rates if coverage doesn’t make a difference. It also appears futile to expand coverage if health care doesn’t matter.
Legislation is a fool’s errand
Legislating against personal choice for something as universal as our food choices is a fool’s errand. That doesn’t mean we won’t try.
S. 595 and H.R. 1530, the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act of 2019, propose that Medicare cover behavioral therapy and drugs for obesity. In the House 82 Democrats and 38 Republicans think this is a good enough idea to cosponsor the bill. The Senate split with 7 Republicans and 6 Democrats cosponsoring. Neither version has budged.
We have twin House and Senate Resolutions H.Res. 316 and S.Res. 190 to promote minority health awareness and draw attention to the problem.
Just look around you in the grocery store. Look at your fellow shoppers and what they are buying. If we aren’t aware by now, we probably never will be.
Another set of twin bills from House and Senate Republicans ask us to develop anti-obesity strategies that are Better Tools for Health Living.
Citing two-thirds of our population that is overweight and a massive $190 billion lost to obesity,13 Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) proposes the ENRICH Act to dole out competitive grants to medical schools to figure out how to train doctors to deal with the problem.
The best advice is to tell their patients to eat less and exercise more. My guess is they already do that. For 93 million people it doesn’t work.
So what’s left to control?
Children are obesity’s last resort
When all else fails we can always rely on children, or in this case obese children to bolster a political push to slim down.
We’ve been here before. Michelle Obama tried to create healthy, hunger-free kids. Mothers were condemned for sending cookies and cupcakes to school. We were finally on the way to controlling what kids eat once and for all.
A few years after that effort we’re still trying to manage this incredibly finicky group of eaters.
Citing the 33% of schoolchildren who are overweight or worse, Congresswoman Federica Wilson (D-FL) asks us to pay for more grants to expand school salad bars:
Salad bars are effective in elementary, middle, and high school, they empower students to try new fruits and vegetables and are a tangible example of a school’s commitment to wellness and healthier school meals.14
This approach has a partisan side explained by Rep. James Comer (R-KY):
Kids deserve healthy and nutritious meals at school, but if the federal government mandates meals that students won’t eat, then Washington is categorically failing to combat hunger. 15
I can’t disagree. Salads don’t seem like they will be a big seller for most school kids.
Democrats won’t give up. They can always go after corporations, their party’s favorite enemies.
Obesity is about corporate greed?
The Stop Subsidizing Childhood Obesity Act (H.R. 5232) goes after corporate marketing gurus. The bill proposes that we “remove the tax deductibility of expenses for marketing foods of poor nutritional quality to children.”16
Just walk into your local grocery store and look at the food displays. Are Democrats going to control how stores market their products, too?
Earlier this year House Democrats Chellie Pingree and Rosa DeLauro seized on a 2015 report citing inappropriate contacts between Coca-Cola and the CDC:
The report, “Public Meets Private: Conversations Between Coca-Cola and the CDC”, published an analysis of 295 pages of emails dated between 2011 and 2015, obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests. The emails show a troubling pattern of the company using access to high-level CDC officials to shape debates over public health policy directly involving the nutritional value of its products.17
Those products have no great nutritional value. Most of us know that. Chicago tried to regulate soft drink abuse with a sweetened beverage tax. That historic effort lasted a very short time because of the incredibly negative response.
People like their soda and they don’t want to pay extra to curb their habit. Besides, Coca Cola and other soft drink makers have been around for a very long time. Soda marketing has been with us for decades. We were drinking pop long before 93 million Americans became obese. As much as we blame massive serving sizes of these sugary drinks, that’s what the soda gulping public wants.
Personal choice wins again.
Personal choice fails fat people
Fat people are failed by their personal choice. The consequences of their food decisions can be severe. Politics can’t change that. Unlike recreational drugs, cigarettes, and booze, we all have to eat. We have the freedom to consume what we want and there are just too many choices to legislate against.
My own experience with obesity after I blossomed to 270 lbs. is that nothing works except deciding to change your behavior. I didn’t go to doctors, take drugs, or visit therapists. I ate less. I started exercising each and every day.
Years later I weigh 135.
This was my personal decision. I didn’t get any help from the government and wouldn’t have paid any attention if it was offered. When I’d had enough of being fat I made a different choice.
UPDATE August 30, 2019: foie gras ban is a warning to obese America
It might be good for overweight America to pay attention to what’s going on in New York. According to NBC News, New York City is pondering a ban on foie gras. The very fatty, very expensive, and not very good for us delicacy drives the animal rights crowd completely crazy. In ban everything that offends, liberal America this sort of indulgence is very much at risk.
Foie gras has to be created, of course. It’s the same sort of gluttonous process that added fatty liver disease to the list of health problems that afflict obese Americans. While I don’t approve of kowtowing to the left on any issue, we might do well to compare how we feed geese and ducks to create foie gras and how we create it in ourselves.
1. Adult Obesity Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html, retrieved August 20, 2019.
3. Current Cigarette Smoking Among Adults in the United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/adult_data/cig_smoking/index.htm, retrieved August 26m 2019,
4. Illinois Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi Responds To Vaping-Linked Death Of Illinois Man, The First In The Nation. Raja Krishnamoorthi. August 23, 2019. https://krishnamoorthi.house.gov/media/press-releases/illinois-congressman-raja-krishnamoorthi-responds-vaping-linked-death-illinois, retrieved August 25, 2019.
5. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Re-introduces Opioid Crisis Accountability Act. Tulsi Gabbard. May 22, 2019. https://gabbard.house.gov/news/press-releases/rep-tulsi-gabbard-re-introduces-opioid-crisis-accountability-act, retrieved August 24, 2019.
7. Adult Obesity Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
8. “Trans Fat.” Retrieved from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/InteractiveNutritionFactsLabel/trans-fat.html on August 22, 2019.
9. Adult Obesity Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html, retrieved August 20, 2019.
10. “Seven states now report obesity at or above 35 percent.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. September 12, 2018. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/s0912-obesity-maps-report.html, retrieved August 21, 2018.
13. H.R. 188 – ENRICH Act. Congress.gov. https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/1888/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22obesity%22%5D%7D&r=9&s=1, retrieved August 25, 2019.
14. H.R. 2688 – Salad Bars in Schools Expansion Act.” Congress.gov. https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/2688/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22salad+bar%22%5D%7D&r=1&s=4, retrieved August 25, 2019.
15. Opening Statement of Rep. James Comer (R-KY), Subcommittee Hearing on “Growing a Healthy Next Generation: Examining Federal Child Nutrition Programs.” Committee on Education & Labor Republicans. March 12, 2019. https://republicans-edlabor.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=403284, retrieved August 25, 2019.
16. “Congressman Tim Ryan Fights Obesity Epidemic.” Tim Ryan. July 6, 2016. https://timryan.house.gov/press-release/congressman-tim-ryan-fights-obesity-epidemic, retrieved August 21, 2019.
17. “Pingree, DeLauro to HHS Inspector General: Investigate Coca-Cola’s Lobbying of CDC.” Chellie Pingree. February 4, 2019. https://pingree.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=291, retrieved August 23, 2019.
*Image: Prevalence of Self-Reported Obesity Among U.S. Adults by State and Territory, BRFSS, 2018. CDC. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/downloads/2017-overall-obesity-prevalence-map-508.pptx on August 26, 2019.
This post was edited for clarity after the original publish date of August 27, 2019.