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Friday, August 22, 2008


I'm not sure that I agree that people aren't to blame for their obesity. Advertisers, restaurants and processed food manufacturers aren't pinning people to their chairs and force-feeding them.

I guess that's the obvious point.

Do people need to better educate themselves? Yes.

Should we start regulating food makers and advertisers in the meantime? No.

As the prices of wheat and corn soar, the market is already making it more expensive to overeat. Obese people cannot blame ethanol for the scarcity--anyone who consumes is part of the market, and should be subject to its vagaries.

Or how about a health care system that demanded prevention rather than emphasizing treatment, which is far more costly both to insurers and society, in dollars, lost productivity and quality of life.

If you were required to restrict your diet or faced sharply higher insurance premiums, chances are good you'd learn to pass on those fries. If joining a gym and going regularly got you a steeply discounted premium (enough to offset the cost of joining and then some), you'd go.

Obese people often don't see that being fat forces all of us to pay higher premiums and get worse care. They think they have some vague right called "freedom of choice" without the consequence of paying for a poor choice.

In a sense, we already have socialized medicine, as the cost of the obesity epidemic is borne by all.

Do I lack compassion? No. Just the opposite. The free market must be made to work to save people's lives.

The free market isn't sentimental, and right now it isn't truly free. It's weighted toward farmers who are heavily subsidized for growing the crops that are killing us. Remove artificially cheap corn and wheat from the food supply (as is happening), make health insurance FAIR for those who take better care of themselves, and the problem largely fixes itself.

That, and add more sidewalks and bike paths to the suburbs for easy exercising ...

your wife

I should also add that with obesity, the gratification is obviously instant. You eat what you like, you don't break a sweat exercising, what could be better? The externality is delayed. You don't get fat the instant you swallow. That comes over time. And the cure takes so much time, effort, loss of pleasure and loss of comfort, that the desire for instant gratification easily trumps it. The only way to interrupt this economic behavior is to change the incentives. Eating too much must become more painful than abstaining and exercising. That's how gastric bypass works--it's too painful to overeat. It's how health care plans should work too.


My family and I kept our french habits when we moved to San Francisco Bay Area. We've never owned a refrigerator and still don't. We have family meals, and anything we eat we have made (except for bread). None of us have gotten overweight. My wife and I are the same weight as we were before the move.

Anne: All very valid points. But in a way, you are also agreeing with me: the system is designed to encourage obesity, starting with the farmer and ending with health insurance.

I'm not as sure about the effectiveness of economic incentives. After all, people still smoke even though cigarettes cost almost $10 a pack in some areas.

Here's my thought: If some states are seeing obesity rates of 30 percent or more, doesn't that indicate that this crisis is more complicated than just personal responsibility?

John: That's great. Of course, you live in one of the few cities where you can do that. In most American cities, you'd have to drive three or four miles to pick up food for each meal.

I'm about to dig into "The Omnivores Dilemma" by Michael Pollan and may follow it up with his next book, "In Defense of Food".

I'm plenty overweight and trying to lose some pounds. Saw a dietitian not long ago. She strongly advised against all of the refined products (sugar, corn syrup, white flours, etc).

Best of luck trying to avoid those ingredients. They are EVERYWHERE in our food at the supermarket. Given one full aisle in the supermarket for bread, you'll probably find less than one or two brands of whole wheat bread that is actually healthy. Most are still made with corn syrup and a large amount of refined white flour, with a little whole wheat flour so that they can call it such.

I agree with Anne that personal responsibility is a big part of it, but also with Brett that "the system" is a big part of the problem too. Taking the road to personal responsibility is made difficult by an industry that makes it so hard to find foods that meet healthy guidelines because they provide very little healthy food and they falsely or misleadingly advertise and label the food.

I for one am fed up with the "100% Natural" label, which is twisted so far beyond what the reasonable person would see as "natural".

Let me give an example, Briar's ice cream used to be 100% natural. Their vanilla ice cream used to proudly list its ingredients in a larger, fancier font outside of the FDA standard format label. I think it went something like, "Milk, Cream, Sugar, Vanilla Bean."

A few years ago, that part of packages design disappeared and now you have to look in the fine print to find out that it now includes "Tara Gum". They've retained their "100% Natural" or "All Natural" designation though. I think this makes it taste worse and I hate it now.

As I'm going from memory, I don't recall what other ingredients are now there as well, but have a look at the rest of the ice cream brands that are advertising being "All Natural", "100% Natural", "Premium", and "Extra Creamy".

The last one also makes me want to shout out loud. Extra Creamy! But you're using LESS cream!

Creamy, when it pertains to ice CREAM, no longer means that there is extra cream in it. It means that there are additives such as Tara Gum, Guar Gum, Carob Bean Gum, or Carrageenan in them. But apparently the words "Extra Gummy" or "Increased Viscosity" don't sound as appealing to consumers.

I've been avoiding ice cream in general, since I'm trying to lose weight, but I think it's a depressing example of what the food industry is doing to mislead and disappoint consumers. You find these crappy ingredients in so many foods.

I love vegetables, and whole grain products, and fish, and fruits. I've been a smoothie making animal lately, and I've been grilling zucchini and eggplants and asparagus. Mmm mm! And soup season is coming around again.

But back to the original point... It's not easy finding all the healthy foods. Your local supermarket is not as helpful as it could be and you have to drive further to find healthy foods and farmers markets.

John Rothschild: No fridge? How do you manage that? Do you shop daily? What foods have you eliminated from your diet?

Mark, I think you explained the situation better than I did. I love the real-life examples.

I think we should go to the grocery stores and offer shoppers Tara Gum straight up and see if they like it.

I'll also add that even during the summer, produce at high-end grocery stores is often overripe, rubber, moldy or downright rotten.

That sends me running for the freezer section for more affordable frozen veggies even though I like fresh umpteen times more.

There is a wonderful children's website, http://www.gotrybe.com , that was started to fight the childhood obesity epidemic and to combat type 2 diabetes.

For children who love to sit and play games on the computer, GoTrybe is a perfect way to allow use technology as a tool to get them active and healthy at home. The fitness videos are a lot of fun, and there is nutrition, motivation, and wellness information that embraces an active and healthy lifestyle for young people.

Thanks Anna.


I thought your take was interesting and spot-on. I've included it as part of our "Take Five" series on obesity: http://www.diabetesdaily.com/edelman/2008/11/take-five-obesity.php. Although I don't take a side on that page, I think you are closest to on the money.

You got my 100 thanks Anna. That is the type i wanted about.
And For Brett i give 101 thanks from me, so close because both of you are help so much today :-)

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