Friday, January 16, 2004

Fighting Fat - The Bush Administration Approach

The World Health Organization just issued a report on the world-wide obesity problem. It estimates that 300 million people are obese and 750 million overweight. Even 22 million children under the age five are regarded as overweight. The WHO wants people to start eating differently and their governments to support this change:

The WHO report recommends eating more fruits and vegetables and limiting fats and salt. It also suggests governments limit food advertising aimed at children and encourage their citizens to eat healthier foods. Taxes and subsidies could be used to reduce the price of healthy food and make them more attractive to consumers, the report said.

The U.S. administration response was swift. HHS official William Steiger argued that the WHO findings were based on faulty science. I guess he also didn't like any of the onus put on governments or the business interests:

"The (U.S. government) favors dietary guidance that focuses on the total diet, promotes the view that all foods can be part of a healthy and balanced diet, and supports personal responsibility to choose a diet conducive to individual energy balance, weight control and health," wrote Steiger, special assistant for international affairs at Health and Human Services.

Now, personal responsibility is all fine and dandy, and exercize is also an important part of a healthy life. But personal responsibility is something that's a lot easier to practise when the grocery stores offer many affordable alternatives of healthy foods, when the cheapest filling thing to eat isn't a Big Mac with fries from McDonald's, and when the television isn't constantly blaring messages about the desirability of fast foods and soft drinks to its watching audience. If these messages didn't work, advertizers wouldn't be willing to pay for most of the tv industry.

Wiener's response isn't surprising, of course, given that the Bush administration wants pregnant women to assert individual responsibility in avoiding mercury that might possibly lurk in quite a few saltwater fish species, while the fishing and power plant industries (which put the mercury there) are not held to the same standards of individual responsibility.

Would you like to have lunch with me here at the headquarters of Snakepit Inc.? The menu: tuna salad with dill and mercury, freedom fries with saturated fat and a soft drink beverage with phosphoric acid. After lunch, we'll don our bulletproof vests and go for a brisk walk through the nearby delapidated area, admiring en route the individual initiative demonstrated by the drug dealers peddling at every street corner. Even the poorest American can do this much!