Fat Fiction Fat, lies and measuring tape


Exploding melons and fining fat people

This melon's had it

Obesity is in everyone’s interest to solve, wherever you sit on the political spectrum. It screws the economy, life expectancy, quality of life and raises the cost of medical care across the board. So why don’t governments do something about it? It’s not rocket science is it? No it’s not. It’s much more complicated than that.

There are two stories on BBC news today that neatly encompass the issue and its complexities. First off is the story from the state of Arizona on the proposal of fining fat people on welfare, on the grounds that they should be spending a little less on McDonalds and presumably more on reading War and Peace and being generally all round better citizens. Hmm. Critics round up and say this is social engineering gone mad. “What kind of nanny state are we living in”, they cry? Do you really want a government telling you what to eat?

And why stop at fining fat people? If you’ve ever travelled on the underground, you’ll notice there are some smelly people who ride on it too. Fine them. As for the uglies – eugh! Who do you think you are, walking around with a face like that? Here, give me some money for the visual offence you’re causing. It’s clearly a path to liberal lunacy, so you start looking for other alternatives.

So at the polar opposite is a libertarian view that says get rid of this nonsense. Laissez faire capitalism is the way forward. The free market rules supreme. Cool, let’s give that a go. Hold on, what’s this? Melons exploding in China, because they’re pouring so much artificial growth enhancer on the bloody things that they’re exploding like the fireworks their forefathers invented. Someone should stop that. Presumably the government right?

And what happens if you let the free market completely take over food supply? In Britain, we’ve already been there and done that. Back in the 1850s, everyone believed in laissez-faire – meaning literally “let it be”. And let it be the government did, leaving millions of people in Ireland to die of starvation in the potato famine of 1845. Ah, when we said free market, we didn’t mean that free.

Simple problems demand simple solutions

So what should governments do? It’s complicated they say. And given the enormous research, disagreement, and even the fact this blog can exist - is evidence of the fact that science doesn’t fully understand obesity, unlike rocket science which we’ve pretty much nailed. This leads to governments scratching their heads because in turn they’re not sure how to tackle it. Which is why frazzled UK civil servants created the incomprehensible obesity systems map.

However, you don’t need to understand jack about nutrition to know one simple thing. It’s the relentless processing of food that’s driving obesity. White flour and sugar are right at the top of that chain. That leaves you with some stark choices. Is it the role of government to ban or tax fattening foods, or the role of the individual to choose foods which don’t make you fat? Neither extreme makes sense. On the one hand, banning something, or increasing its cost, increases its perceived value, making it more appealing thus having the reverse affect. That’s why the illegal drug trade is so large. It’s why people buy bottled water. Human nature writ large. But then on the other hand, leave it to the individual and we have the obesity epidemic. Seriously.

The only answer is for everyone to step up:

-           Government’s job should be to forcibly increase the nutritional value of processed food, if necessary legislating to put in the nutrients that intensive processing takes out.

-          The role of science is to get to the bottom of the root causes of obesity and publicise it heavily to drive demand for real unprocessed food

-          And the role of the individual? Look after yourself. And if you’ve done that…

-          Tell others

Pass it on (unless of course you want fines or exploding melons).

Picture of melon mayhem from ShuttrKingKT

Comments (5) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Perhaps truth is the main missing ingredient in both the obesity and potato famine stories.

    For a different view of history, see http://tinyurl.com/3v6czvy

    • I don’t buy it – but also I think it’s missing the real point here. Obesity has come about as an accidental by-product of processing of foods, which came about because it’s cheap, cheerful and there’s a market for it. law of unintended consequences and all that.

  2. There’s too much big business behind processed foods. Do you really think that will ever change? That’s not a rhetorical question. I don’t personally believe this epidemic will ever end and I wonder if you really do. People are too addicted to take responsibility for themselves. So it has to become unavailable by way of not existing in the first place, right? It would take, as you said, laws against empty processed foods to change this epidemic and I don’t see that happening.

    • I honestly, wholeheartedly do see it changing Peggy. It’s not mindless optimism either. The fact that we’re even having this conversation points to a much, much wider movement of people realising that half the stuff they thought was good for them isn’t, and subsequently the demand changes, and so – eventually – do the products. It’s a slow process, hampered by misleading advertising but through every other channel, gradually it will take hold and views, habits and actions change. Sharp entrepreneurs have already cottoned on to this – (see the Leon chain of fast food in the UK for eg).
      Processed food business is huge sure, but none of those businesses are too big to fail. Doubtlessly they’ve already eyed this movement and will be thinking hard of ways to monetise it. If they fail, they’ll simply wither and die.
      There’s a smaller example with the barefoot running. Christopher McDougall sparks a world-wide revolution and we all start looking around for some kind of minimalist shoes that work in cities. Vibrams lead the way but how do the major trainer businesses react? Nike make a half-arsed attempt with some over-engineered clops but at least they’re trying. The others just sit there like lemmings doing nothing – a move I’m sure they’ll all universally regret… leaving new kid Terra Plana to make huge strides into the footwear market. Merrill have recently woken up, but as for the others… I’d be asking for market directors’ resignations right now.
      The good wins out. Eventually ;)

  3. while we are at it lets punish people who get cancer too since we all know it is caused by lifestyle choices too right? the potatoe famine was not caused by free markets from what I understand the peasants were forced to grow only certain potaotes for the resturant business and had to grow what would sell and I am sure they were only tenants on the land and had rent to pay. free and open markiets only work from what i gather if everyone owns their own land free and clear without taxation and so they always have some capital to expand their trading.

    if they are unable to compete for whatever reason if they don’t owe money or taxes on their land and house they will never be homeless. they can still grow their own food. and sooner or later find some niche for trade. there was a time when people made their own clothes grew and processed their own foods and managed their other basics with little help from gov except to keep law and order and prevent violations of rights of one against another being mostly a intermeditary and not a participant.

    naturally those living in cities will need those who live on farms and ranches to provide food and clothing recreation and educational oppertunities and right there is a market for everyone living and working land and animals. corporations who use power and influence get in the way of the process and create unjust trading and creating monopolies with gov protections. so it is man that is the problem. those who are greedy and selfish that interfere with the process for those who are honest and fair.


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