by Michael Tennant
22 January 2013
Last November, the government of Denmark
announced that it was repealing a year-old tax on fatty foods
because the tax had failed to curb fat consumption but had succeeded
in driving business - and jobs - to neighboring countries. It was a
rare retreat in the international war on obesity.
From London to Lima and from the Big Apple to Budapest,
governments are imposing increasingly onerous diktats in an effort
to shrink their populations’ rapidly expanding waistlines.
The hope is that by reducing the
incidence of obesity, the many health problems associated with it,
such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, will also become less
common, thereby reducing healthcare costs - a major concern in an
era in which governments either heavily subsidize or fully operate
their nations’ healthcare systems.
Few would deny that obesity is a serious problem in the modern
world. Sedentary lifestyles, poor diets, and possibly many other
factors have caused scales to tip at previously unheard-of rates.
the United Nations’ World Health
Organization (WHO), as of 2008 more than 1.4 billion adults were
overweight, and more than half a billion were obese.
The WHO claims that every year at least
2.8 million people die as a result of being overweight or obese.
As one might expect, the problem is most acute in prosperous
countries. Among industrialized nations, the United States bears the
dubious distinction of being the world’s fattest, with over 35
percent of adults and 17 percent of youth classified as obese,
according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
But, says the WHO,
“obesity is now also prevalent in
low- and middle-income countries.”
(It is not, however, a noteworthy
concern in communist countries, where the population is continually
kept on the brink of starvation: North Korea tops the list of
The obesity problem, therefore, is not to be ignored; and
governments, ever eager to seize upon the latest “crisis” to
arrogate more power to themselves, have most certainly not ignored
While the varied interventions - among
them fat taxes, soda bans, and even mandated waist measurements -
may appear to be isolated efforts by governments hoping to improve
their peoples’ health and reduce healthcare costs, they are, in
fact, part of a much larger, global movement seeking vastly greater
state control over all aspects of society.
The New Global
“Obesity is the new global warming,”
Wesley J. Smith declared in a 2011 issue of the Weekly Standard.
With the alleged threat of global warming increasingly being
viewed with skepticism by the general public, he wrote,
it seems clear that modern liberalism
has devised a new strategy for imposing policies that it can’t
attain through ordinary politicking.
First, identify a crisis
ostensibly caused by modern lifestyles and/or capitalism.
Next, launch a multifaceted
international response to prevent allegedly looming
Third, act as if the desired
policies are objective, scientific solutions.
Fund it all by imposing onerous taxes on
an expanding list of villainous enterprises, et voilà: Liberalism
rides to the rescue.
And if the strategy fails on one front,
as it appears to have with global warming, find another crisis and
The first major salvo in the global war on obesity was launched by
the WHO in 2004, when it published its “Global Strategy on Diet,
Physical Activity and Health.”
As befits a United Nations (UN) pronouncement, the document’s
objective was audacious:
“The overall goal of the Global
Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health is to promote and
protect health by guiding the development of an enabling
environment for sustainable actions at individual, community,
national and global levels that, when taken together, will lead
to reduced disease and death rates related to unhealthy diet and
Since free markets and individuals, in
the WHO’s opinion, are responsible for the human race’s rapidly
expanding waistlines, they clearly cannot be trusted to solve the
“Governments,” the Global Strategy
maintained, “have a central role … to create an environment that
empowers and encourages behavior changes by individuals,
families and communities, to make positive, life-enhancing
decisions on healthy diets and patterns of physical activity.”
Member states are asked to develop,
“national strategies on diet and
physical activity” that “include specific goals, objectives, and
All government agencies, not just those
directly responsible for health, should be involved in enforcing
Plans should take a “life-course approach,” i.e., they should cover
everyone from cradle to grave.
“starting in primary school” and continuing through “adult
literacy and education programs.”
No contrary messages shall be sent by the private sector, either.
“Messages that encourage unhealthy
dietary practices or physical inactivity should be discouraged,
and positive, healthy messages encouraged.”
In particular, food and beverage
advertisements targeted to children must relay the globalists’
mantra, and producers’ health claims must be monitored lest they,
“mislead the public about
nutritional benefits or risks.”
National governments should also align
their food and agricultural policies with the Global Strategy.
“encourage the reduction of the salt
content of processed foods, the use of hydrogenated oils, and
the sugar content of beverages and snacks.”
They should also employ,
“taxation, subsidies or direct
pricing in ways that encourage healthy eating and lifelong
Of course, as the WHO recognized, the
best-laid plans of bureaucrats and elites will not accomplish their
objectives unless someone is seeing to it that the people are
“Monitoring and surveillance are
essential tools in the implementation of national strategies for
healthy diets and physical activity,” and thus “governments
should invest in” them.
Such “investment,” naturally, will
require higher taxes; but since the UN has declared that,
“economic growth is limited unless
people are healthy,” these programs “should draw policy and
financial support from national development plans.”
Matter Before the UN
The pressure for an international response to obesity similar to
that being pushed for global warming really ratcheted up when the UN
General Assembly held a “High-Level Meeting” on non-communicable
diseases, many of which are caused or exacerbated by obesity, in
In advance of that meeting, the Lancet, a British medical journal,
published an article (Changing
The Future of Obesity - Science, Policy, and Action) calling on the UN to adopt the WHO’s Global
Strategy - and making the connection to the global-warming crusade
“Obesity,” the authors wrote,
“should be considered alongside other major issues that confront
societies ([including] action against climate change), because
they all have strong links with obesity prevention, including
common causes and solutions.”
The study, which was funded by the
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National Institutes of
Health, argued that the common causes include modern
conveniences (including automobiles, which promote inactivity), big
business, and an unequal distribution of wealth.
The common solution, naturally, is more government intervention.
“Governments are the most important
actors in reversing the obesity epidemic.”
And they must not be shy about imposing
their agenda on every aspect of society:
“The changes needed to reverse the
epidemic are likely to require many sustained interventions at
Necessary alterations include:
individual behavior change; interventions in schools, homes, and
workplaces; and sector change within agriculture, food services,
education, transportation, and urban planning.”
The authors endorse a variety of,
“interventions across the life
course for all demographic groups.”
They call on governments to “protect
and promote health and sustainable food security.”
They want priority given to “public
transport, walking and cycling environments” to get people to
stop driving their own cars. They seek wealth redistribution;
governments are to, “ensure taxation and social policies support
the reduction of socioeconomic inequalities that contribute to
They want more funding for
government anti-obesity initiatives, paid for via “taxes on
tobacco, alcohol, or unhealthy food and beverages.”
They call for “national guidelines
for individuals” and “national targets for the food industry.”
All of this will be overseen by
government experts, who will “create monitoring systems to track
obesity trends in children and adults” and use “computational
modeling” to determine the best approaches to fighting fat.
National goals aren’t the end, however.
“The UN and other international
agencies need to take action to reduce obesity” - and to spend
more money on it.
“the protection and maintenance of
public health should be considered in relevant trade, economic,
agriculture, environment, food, and health agreements and
Like its predecessor, the,
“new global warming” also has its
celebrity spokesmen. Just prior to the UN summit, British
celebrity chef Jamie Oliver announced that he was circulating a
petition to “make obesity a human rights issue,” according to
“Obesity needs to be on every government agenda,” he said at the
One Young World Conference in Switzerland. “It should be as
important as the fight against AIDS and climate change. It has
to become the national health priority.”
When the General Assembly finally did
convene, it - not surprisingly - endorsed the WHO’s Global Strategy.
“the global burden and threat of
non-communicable diseases constitutes one of the major
challenges for development in the twenty-first century” and “may
lead to increasing inequalities between countries and
populations,” the world body called for “collective and
multisectoral action by all Member States and other relevant
stakeholders at local, national, regional, and global levels” to
address the problem of obesity.
Solving this problem, the UN said,
“require leadership and
multisectoral approaches for health at the government level,
including, as appropriate, health in all policies and
whole-of-government approaches across” all segments of society.
Nothing must escape
“reaffirm[ed] the right of everyone
to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical
and mental health” and “recognize[d] the importance of universal
coverage in national health systems.”
It decried the “uneven distribution of
wealth” in the world that can contribute to the problem of
And, of course, it called for,
“increased and sustained human,
financial and technical resources” to combat the problem.
Since the UN meeting, the fear-mongering
has only increased. Scientists (with definite left-wing biases) are
now claiming that the increasing prevalence of obesity threatens the
2012 study by faculty members of the
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine argued that
heavier people require more energy to be kept alive and, therefore,
“tackling population fatness may be
critical to world food security and ecological sustainability.”
“Overpopulation” doomsayer Thomas
Malthus and “climate change” both got favorable mentions in the
study; and in case anyone still couldn’t recognize the scientists’
political leanings, lead researcher Ian Roberts told the Daily Mail:
“Everyone accepts that population
growth threatens global environmental sustainability - our study
shows that population fatness is also a major threat. Unless we
tackle both population and fatness, our chances are slim.”
So the same people who have been warning
of overpopulation, climate change, and other disasters that will
surely befall humanity if its selfish interests are not reined in
“for the common good” now want us to believe that unless government
steps in and forces us all to lose weight, Earth is surely doomed.
I would suggest taking this advice with
several grains of salt, but that would undoubtedly run afoul of the
globalists’ dietary recommendations. Of course, as with all such
schemes, the elites will be exempt from the rules they impose on the
rest of us.
Thus, New York Mayor Michael
Bloomberg, who has forced restaurants in the city to abandon
trans fats and post calorie counts on their menus, worked for
reductions in salt in packaged and restaurant food, and got the
Board of Health to ban sodas over 16 ounces,
“dumps salt on almost everything,
even saltine crackers”, “has a weakness for hot dogs,
cheeseburgers, and fried chicken, washing them down with a glass
of merlot,” and snacks on “Cheez-Its,” the New York Times
Likewise, while First Lady Michelle
Obama lectures the rest of us on eating right, she and
her husband are known to indulge in cheeseburgers, French fries,
And while the average North Korean makes
Calista Flockhart look like Rosie O’Donnell, “Supreme Leader” Kim
Jong-un looks like he could use a membership to Weight Watchers.
For now, though, let us put aside all the principled objections to
the global war on obesity and consider one practical objection:
The same governments that now wish
to impose a reducing program on their citizens are also major
contributors to humans’ expanding waistlines.
That is especially true in the case of
the United States.
“You are never, ever, ever going to
see a change in this country’s obesity until the farm bill is
changed,” Dr. Jonny Bowden declared in an interview with The New
“Our government supports, through
the farm bill, every fattening crop on the planet, every
high-carbohydrate, processed food.”
Bowden, who bills himself as “the Rogue
Nutritionist,” is an expert on weight loss, nutrition, and health
and has written numerous books on these subjects, including the
bestsellers The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth and Living Low Carb.
“The major fat-storage hormone in
the body is insulin,” Bowden explained, “and the higher your
insulin, the more difficult it is to burn fat and lose weight.”
Carbohydrate consumption causes the body
to release insulin - the more carbohydrates, the greater the insulin
Yet the federal government has for years been subsidizing and
promoting the consumption of high-carbohydrate foods. The farm bill
subsidizes five commodities: wheat, corn, soybeans, rice, and
cotton. The first three of those are the primary ingredients of most
Farmers are paid based on how many bushels of these crops they grow,
which promotes overproduction.
Farmers growing fresh produce, by
contrast, receive very little from Washington.
“A result of these policy choices is
on stark display in your supermarket, where the real price of
fruits and vegetables between 1985 and 2000 increased by nearly
40 percent while the real price of soft drinks (a.k.a. liquid
corn) declined by 23 percent,” Michael Pollan wrote in a 2007
article in the New York Times Magazine.
“The reason the least healthful
calories in the supermarket are the cheapest is that those are
the ones the farm bill encourages farmers to grow.”
One particularly perverse outcome of
corn subsidies has been to make high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
the sweetener of choice for processed-food producers. Nearly all
non-diet sodas now contain HFCS, and it is also in dozens of other
food products, from breakfast cereal to chicken nuggets.
Now, having sugars of any kind tucked into every food imaginable
cannot be good for people. But are we even worse off because that
sugar is in the form of HFCS?
Both table sugar and HFCS are made up of a combination of glucose
Sugar is exactly half glucose and half
fructose; HFCS, as the name implies, has more fructose - 55 percent
to glucose’s 45 percent.
“From a metabolic point of view,”
said Bowden, “the damaging part of sugar is fructose.” Since the
difference in fructose content between sugar and HFCS is
relatively small, he argues that HFCS is “not much worse than
Others disagree, citing studies showing
that HFCS is metabolized differently from sugar.
Still other studies have found no
What is certain is that by subsidizing corn, the government has made
HFCS considerably less expensive than sugar (which itself is made
considerably more expensive by high protective tariffs), thereby
enabling processed-food producers to add more sweeteners to their
products and sell them in larger sizes without having to raise
As a result, Americans today consume
vastly more sugar than previous generations, with estimates running
as high as 156 pounds per person annually.
The government’s dietary recommendations also contribute to the
“The USDA has two mandates, and they
are conflicting,” Bowden maintained.
“The first is to get the people of
the United States good information about nutrition. The second
mandate is to build markets and to build business for the
agricultural industry. Well, if you’re putting out crap, and
you’ve got to build markets for that, you can’t very well tell
the people that you’re supposed to be informing that this is
Political influence has plagued the
Department of Agriculture’s dietary advice for well over a century.
In his book Bully Boy - The Truth
About Theodore Roosevelt’s Legacy, Jim Powell notes that
Harvey Washington Wiley, the chief chemist at
Bureau of Chemistry from 1882 to 1912,
“encouraged Americans to consume
more sugar, which he considered the hallmark of an advanced
civilization. ‘Childhood without candy,’ he remarked, ‘would be
Heaven without harps.’”
Wiley, as it happens, was tight with the
He lobbied for high sugar tariffs, and
sugar producers helped protect him from political enemies. The food
pyramid, which the USDA introduced in 1992, was greatly influenced
The pyramid recommended six to 11
servings of grains daily - more than any other food group, and more
than vegetables and fruits combined.
“While the government has stood by
this regimen for 11 years,” the Wall Street Journal reported in
2002, “some critics say it’s no coincidence that the number of
overweight Americans has risen 61% since the pyramid was
introduced - and almost instantaneously appeared on the sides of
pasta boxes, bread wrappers and packages of other food products
in the pyramid’s six-to-11-servings category.”
At that time the USDA’s dietary
guidelines were up for review,
“an exercise that attracts not only
critics from the world of medicine but industry lobbyists and
those promoting the virtues of various food groups and diets,”
the Journal observed.
The lobbying should not be surprising
given that, as the same newspaper reported in 2004,
“the tiniest change to the
guidelines or pyramid can swing food companies’ sales by
millions of dollars.”
“Every aisle of the supermarket has
a lobbyist in town,” food-industry consultant Jeff Nedelman told
Some industry groups, such as the
National Dairy Council, sought increases in the number of
recommended servings of their products.
Others sought merely to retain their
prominence in the pyramid:
“There is no doubt that the Food
Guide Pyramid in 1992 was a big boost to the baking industry,”
Sara Lee Corp. baking division spokesman Matt Hall told the
The resulting guidelines were anything
but impartial and scientific.
the USDA replaced the food pyramid
MyPlate. Most pyramid critics agree
that the new guide is an improvement over the old one. Fruits and
vegetables now occupy a larger part of the recommended diet, though
grains still constitute a sizable portion of it, and dairy - not
necessarily harmful but certainly not essential - remains in the
recommendations, no doubt reflecting continued industry pressure.
And whereas the food pyramid suggested
using fats “sparingly,” MyPlate fails to address the issue at all,
despite research showing that some fats are actually beneficial.
Now, after all these years of subsidizing and recommending poor
diets, the government, led by the UN, wants people to trust it to
help them shrink their waistlines.
Yet who doubts that, just as in the
past, policies implemented in the future will not be governed solely
by disinterested scientists but also by lobbyists, politicians
beholden to special interests, and researchers pushing an agenda?
Still, even if disinterested individuals were given a free hand to
solve the obesity dilemma, what, exactly, would they do?
“If the president called and said,
‘You’re going to be an advisor [on obesity]. Fix it any way that
you want,’ I would just run from the room screaming because I
wouldn’t even know where to start,” Bowden said.
While diet and exercise certainly play a
“there are enormous genetic,
metabolic, biochemical, [and] environmental factors that work
together in some manner, shape, or form that is virtually
impossible to study because you’ve got too many factors,” he
“I have talked to obesity
researchers who have said, ‘We’ve been studying this stuff for
20 years, and we still do not understand it.’”
This constitutes yet another parallel
between “global warming” and the obesity “crisis.”
No one doubts that the Earth’s climate
has changed over time - not just seasonally but over centuries and
millennia - and that even now it is changing in observable ways.
Likewise, everyone can see with his own eyes - or bathroom scale -
that humans are becoming heavier by the day.
In both cases, neither the underlying
causes of the changes nor their ultimate repercussions are fully
understood, but the solutions proposed by those claiming to know the
answers are the same:
Government on a Diet
May I suggest a better solution? Get government out of the
business of subsidizing crops and making dietary
If food prices were dictated solely by the market rather than by
politics, it is likely that fruits and vegetables would be less
expensive than processed, unhealthful foods.
As Pollan pointed out:
Compared with a bunch of carrots, a
package of Twinkies, to take one iconic processed food-like
substance as an example, is a highly complicated, high-tech
piece of manufacture, involving no fewer than 39 ingredients,
many themselves elaborately manufactured, as well as the
packaging and a hefty marketing budget.
So how can the supermarket possibly
sell a pair of these synthetic cream-filled pseudocakes for less
than a bunch of roots?
In the absence of subsidies for wheat,
corn, and soy, it would almost surely be cheaper to yank roots out
of the ground and deliver them to the grocery store than to concoct
and deliver many processed foods; and if healthful foods were
cheaper, people would be more likely to consume them.
In addition, if governments no longer issued dietary guidelines,
people would be forced to seek out nutrition information from a
variety of sources whose biases are known instead of treating the
state’s lobbyist-influenced word on the subject as gospel.
This would create more informed
consumers who would be less likely to accept claims that, e.g.,
anything labeled “fat-free” is automatically better for them than an
equivalent product containing butter.
One final suggestion:
Get the government out of
As long as healthcare costs are
socialized, individuals have much less incentive to take care of
their own bodies than they would if they had to pay for their
own medical treatment.
By the same token, when the government
is heavily involved in healthcare, it has a strong incentive to take
control of individuals’ lives so as to minimize its own costs - one
of the main reasons for the push for command-and-control
solutions to the obesity problem.
The last thing the world needs is yet another anti-liberty,
wealth-redistributing response to an alleged crisis. Humans are
already being crushed beneath the weight of government and UN
Now is not the time for those
institutions to pack on another ton in the name of saving us from