Expensive truth about war on fat

Posted: Tuesday, July 22, 2003

They're coming for your cheeseburgers.

And your pork rinds, pizza, Fettuccini Alfredo and french fries.

You see, you're too fat. You're eating the wrong foods. So the People Who Know What's Best For You (PWKWBFY) want to help.

The PWKWBFY got together in June for a strategy conference in Boston. It was the most important meeting you never heard about, since these are the same folks who shook down the tobacco companies for billions in 1998.

At the conference, 120 lawyers and professional busybodies plotted ways to fight obesity. Not surprisingly, their chief topic was figuring out who to sue.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest's Michael Jacobson had a simple answer: Sue just about everybody. He advocated a whole lot of lawsuits against fast-food chains, food companies and restaurants.

George Washington University law professor John Banzhaf III, who helped instigate the first lawsuits against tobacco companies 30 years ago, seconded the idea. And he had a smug warning for people who scoff at the idea of suing McDonald's: When we first proposed smoker suits, people laughed, too.

Unfortunately, the PWKWBFY aren't the only ones taking aim at your plate. Politicians are also getting into the act.

In New York, a state assembly member filed a bill to impose a junk food tax a 1 percent tax on high-calorie foods and soft drinks. (Taxing our way to better health; why didn't we think of that before? Imagine the infomercials: Burn off fat with the new MIRACLE cure higher taxes!)

In Washington, D.C., three senators filed a bill to spend $250 million to teach Americans about good nutrition. The bill, cutely named the Improved Nutrition and Physical Activity Act (IMPACT), was described as the first comprehensive legislation to reduce obesity.

Ask the PWKWBFY and the politicians why they're so obsessed with food, and they'll say that obesity is responsible for 300,000 annual deaths in the United States. They'll say we're suffering from a "toxic food environment." They'll say there's too much cheap, tasty food. As a result, we're too fat.

In fact, it's not that simple.

America's obesity epidemic is less a problem of too much food than it is of too little exercise. According to the American Institute of Cancer Research, Americans eat only about 150 calories a day more than we did in 1970 the equivalent of one can of soda.

What we are doing is sitting on our duffs more.

In 2002, the National Center for Health Statistics reported that 70 percent of Americans were not physically active on a regular basis. Of those, 38 percent reported no physical activity.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 64 percent of Americans are overweight and 31 percent are obese.

See the connection? If you're not physically active, you gain weight. If you're sedentary, you gain a lot of weight.

So, instead of taxing fast food, the PWKWBFY should tax your couch, television and Laz-E-Boy recliner. They could call it the Sloth Tax. (Note to the PWKWBFY: That was a joke. Please don't tax my Laz-E-Boy recliner.)

There's another problem with bashing Burger King and castigating KFC. Americans don't eat most of their meals in restaurants.

According to the Surgeon General, Americans dine out an average of four times a week. That means we're eating 17 meals a week at home.

So, rather than tax fast food, the PWKWBFY should tax your wife (or your mom, or husband, or you, depending on who cooks in your home). Since the PWKWBFY presumably eat at home, too, they would have to sue themselves. That could be a problem.

Never mind. There's always somebody to sue. Whether its with cheeseburgers, pizzas or pork rinds, there's somebody "forcing" you to eat fatty foods.

But here's one thing to remember when the PWKWBFY claim they're fighting obesity for our own good: The attorneys who sued the tobacco companies (and won a record-setting $246 billion settlement) earned a whopping $15 billion in legal fees.

Hmmmm. Could it be that the PWKWBFY are less interested in slimming your waistline than they are in fattening their own wallets?

Bill Winter is the editor of the Libertarian Party's national newspaper, the Libertarian Party News.

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