Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Big Brother Is Looking Out For You

Ronald Reagan is often quoted as saying that the scariest words in the English Language are, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."

This is being applied against the perceived obesity crisis. I say "perceived" because the real health threats come, not from weight, but from inactivity. As this article shows, someone who leads an active lifestyle with regular exercise are healthier than those with a more sedentary lifestyles. You don't have to lose weight for health gains.

That's too complicated for most people to understand, even people who should know better. It all comes down to weight and public officials are ready to follow the example of tobacco in trying to change public behavior.

First there is the New York City ban of trans-fats. Other cities and even the entire state of Massachusetts are considering a similar ban. This will nor change much. Trans-fats are too small a portion of the average diet. All this will accomplish is to make food taste worse.

The British want to go several steps beyond this. An article in the British Medical Journal suggests a number of measures starting with putting warnings and an obesity hotline on mens pants with a waist of more than 40 inches.

Somehow I doubt that putting a label on people's clothing saying "You are fat. Loose weight." is the ultimate solution.

The problem is that politicians are using the tobacco model on obesity. Tobacco is not as harmful as most non-smokers think. Most smokers are not harmed y their habit but enough are to make it worthwhile to try to reduce the number of smokers. There are few health benefits to smoking (ironically the main benefit is weight loss).

Food, on the other hand, cannot be avoided. Trying to separate good and bad food is meaningless. Despite titles such as "heart attack on a plate", no single serving of anything is going to clog your arteries, etc. Such foods can even be eaten regularly in small portions.

More important, just looking at someone's diet or weight is not enough. Without evaluating total lifestyle you simply do not have enough information.

Unfortunately, politicians seldom evaluate risk. They see perceived problems and they do something that will be seen as a fix. It doesn't matter in the slightest if the fix is effective.

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