24 June 2008

Combatting obesity

So, I'm fat. Pretty fat, but not crazy fat, I think. And I shouldn't be. I know (intellectually) how not to be. I should go vegan -- eating two salads and five fruits per day and also swim for an hour. And obesity is a chronic epidemic -- spreading as the American diet spreads. I guess at some point I'll care enough about my failing health to get serious. Hopefully it won't be too late. But anyway, enough of my background regarding obesity -- I really want to talk about public policy.

Slashdot just cited new Japanese policy that will require employers to inspect waist size of employees and be fined if they are too big. My first thought was that this was a horrible invasion of privacy and personal liberty and yadda, yadda. You know what, though? Screw that! Sometimes the greater good has a cost to be paid and sometimes, a bit of personal liberty is a worthwhile expense. So, I think this would be a really stupid thing for the US to do, not because it's unjust but because it is pointless.

It would cause hostility and discrimination and enhance low self-esteem issues and further marginalize fat folks. Which isn't necessarily all bad if it would motivate people to effect positive change. But it wouldn't. See, most Americans have no clue. There are thirty popular diets at any given time -- all of them telling you (at least a little) different stuff. Not only that, but 95% of the food in the American supermarket is junk. Not just Chef Boy-R-Dee and the candy isle. Rice-a-Roni, Hamburger Helper, canned soup, all breakfast cereal, 99% of the bread, cow's milk and all meat. Everything. And, I hope it goes without saying, it is almost *literally* impossible to eat right eating out. (OK, go to Subway and get a salad -- none of the bread if nutritive and don't get any of the dressings (maybe a fat-free dressing is also devoid of carcinogenic chemicals, but I wouldn't count on it) and that's reasonably nutritive, but not particularly exciting -- it'll do in a pinch, for sure.) If you buy normal flour from the grocer and bake your own bread, it's still garbage. What if you get whole wheat flour? It's rancid and has lost much of the grain's native value. You have to grind your own and bake right then or freeze it (for not too long!).

I don't know what life is like in Japan. Are they living like this now too? It would be dumb to institute workplace fat-checks and maintain the way of life that we have built around e.g. corn syrup. It's a stupid band-aid which entirely fails to address the problem.

If the government wants to address obesity, there are things to remediate. Craft a sensible farm bill. Incentivize small family farms, (the good, permaculturish) organic methods and local farmers markets. For God's sake, how about requiring that schools stop poisoning our children! Tax fast food and give tax breaks to genuinely healthy restaurants. I'm sure there's lots of stuff.

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