The Language of Obesity

sizeSadly, childhood obesity is inextricably connected with bias, stigma, discrimination, blaming, and shaming. “Obesophobia” is an actual word. It is an intense and abnormal fear of weight gain that might be caused by family influence or a distorted self-image that developed in some other way. Too often, the next step is anorexia or bulimia.

Logically, it seems like there should also be an objective meaning, similar to “homophobia,” which is an intense fear of and aversion to homosexuals. But no, there is a different word for the fear of fat people: cacomorphobia, which in Greek means fear of an ugly shape. says:

Cacomorphobes are terrified of fat or obese people; they simply cannot control the terror they experience around such individuals. They often realize that they are being judgmental (often downright mean), and yet they are unable to control the panic attacks they experience at the mere thought or sight of fat people…Many phobics, for example, reveal feeling nauseated upon seeing fat people eating or bingeing on high calorie foods at restaurants.

Erik Hayden wrote for about research that was done at Bowling Green State University, showing that “individuals are very likely to form an immediate negative impression toward the obese.” More than 300 subjects were shown both females and males ranging from normal weight to extremely obese, and were asked to agree or disagree with such statements as “People like this make me feel uncomfortable.” The results?

Participants didn’t merely exhibit a preference for thin figures and indifference to obese ones—they showed active dislike toward these theoretically obese.

The root of fat-shaming seems almost to be instinctual. But Hayden noted one detail that may or may not be comforting. No gender bias seemed to be involved. The dislike of the obese applied equally to the virtual males and virtual females employed in the study.

Last year, reported on a seeming change in the word “fat” itself. The example given was that while 60 percent of women who were surveyed said that “fat” is an offensive insult, many activists are also busy reclaiming the word and investing it with pride. Fat acceptance is definitely a social force, and probably not a useful one. This article says:

Fewer people who describe themselves as overweight are willing to say that “fat” is clearly just an objective description of someone’s weight. This is true whether you compare them to people who think of themselves as having a healthy weight or people who describe themselves as having obesity.

A report on the plus-size fashion industry traced the linguistic variety that has described clothes for big women. “Full-figured” is a term that originated with the lingerie industry. “Plus” is only about ten years old. “Curvy” is gaining popularity. Plus-size model Alexandra Boos told New Yorker contributor Lizzie Widdicombe that a movement is afoot to reclaim “fat.” Boos tends to doubt that a universally acceptable word will ever be agreed upon. During Full Figured Fashion Week, a panel discussed the question of whether “plus” has become a dirty word.

The Obesity Action Coalition believes that obesity is a disease, and that fat-shaming is the last culturally acceptable form of discrimination. The publication “Understanding Obesity Stigma” aims to reduce the bias that clings to obesity. The Coalition identifies separate areas of influence within the society, such as healthcare, media, education, employment and entertainment. The thought leaders among them are encouraged to abandon the old obesity-focused language and adopt “people-first language.” Working with the Rudd Center and The Obesity Society, they created a set of “Guidelines for Media Portrayals of Individuals Affected by Obesity.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “A Fatter Phobia,”, 02/08/10
Source: “What’s Becoming of the Word “Fat”?,”, 08/14
Source: “The Plus Side,”, 09/22/14
Source: “Weight Bias and Stigma,”, undated
Image by walknboston

Curbing Childhood Obesity with Legislation and Taxation

The Soda ShopAs 2014 drew toward its close, over half the American states had soda taxes. The city of Berkeley, California, became the first to successfully institute a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs). Heartened by these advances, several other states were considering soda taxes of their own. One was Illinois, which, as Nathanael Johnson noted, was in severe budgetary trouble. Polling suggested that 65 percent of the state’s voters would support a soda tax that would make up for a $600 million Medicaid shortfall. The Illinois chapter of the American Academy of Pediatricians was in favor of legislation called the Healthy Eating and Active Living (HEAL) Act, whose history and current status can be found on an Illinois state website. For months, the bill has been painstakingly adding co-sponsors, one by one.

Apparently, bipartisan support can be gained for such taxes when the income is earmarked for medical care. But as we have seen, the voters are not always confident that the money raised by their good intentions will be channeled to the places where they want it to go.

Other places are trying a slightly different approach. The California city of Davis approved an ordinance to make water and milk the “default options” for children’s meals served in restaurants and fast food establishments. In practice, this means children’s parents can still order soda for them, but the servers are not supposed to suggest it. If soda is promoted as a first choice, the management gets a talking-to, and if it happens again, a $100 fine can be levied.

The Junk Food Epidemic

Obesity and diabetes have become widespread, according to the Navajo Area Indian Health Service. The Navajo nation became the first part of the United States to impose a tax on junk food. On April 1, 2015, the 2 percent tax went into effect, coupled with the elimination of an already-existing tax on vegetables, fruits, and other healthful foodstuffs. Sabrina Toppa reported for Time:

Revenues from the sin tax will reportedly be channeled toward community wellness projects like farmer’s markets, vegetable gardens and greenhouses in the 27,000 sq. mi. of Navajo reservation spanning from Arizona and New Mexico to Utah…With nearly half of the Navajo youth population facing unemployment and 38% of the Navajo reservation at the poverty level, supporters say the act may serve as a prototype for sin taxes to curb obesity in low-income communities across the U.S.

Meanwhile, over in the United Kingdom, relentlessly activist chef Jamie Oliver is at it again, this time sponsoring a petition meant to convince the government to tax SSBs. The petition now has gathered well over 125,000 signatures. Such a tax could bring in £1 billion per year, which if used properly could make a slight dent in the nation’s annual £9 billion expenditure on diabetes treatment.

Going at the problem from the opposite end, hoping to eliminate rather than create a tax, an Irish politician has called upon the ministry of Transport, Tourism and Sport to expand the successful Cycle to Work program by omitting the tax on bicycles and cycling equipment purchased for school children.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Soda taxes bubbling up all over,”, 05/28/15
Source: “In this city, offering a kid a soda is about to be illegal,”, 05/29/15
Source: “This Place Just Became the First Part of the U.S. to Impose a Tax on Junk Food,”, 03/30/15
Source: “Jamie Oliver’s Sugar Tax Petition Has Had HOW Many Signatures?!,”, 09/08/15
Source: “Labour Senator calls for tax-free bikes for Irish school kids,”, 07/21/15
Image by Kool Cats Photography


Highlights from “The Cost of Sugar Addiction”

Sugar skulls!A while back, Childhood Obesity News featured a four-part series about the many costs, both obvious and obscure, of sugar addiction.

The toxicity of sugar is not a new concept. In the 1960s, Prof. John Yudkin sounded the alarm and was universally regarded as a crank. Health policy investigator Gary Taubes explains how the well-regarded Seven Countries Study was misinterpreted, and the harm that has resulted. In 1975, William Dufty’s book Sugar Blues had a significant impact on public consciousness. In 2005, the documentary film Big Sugar raised another assortment of issues. For instance:

Daniel Stefik’s review of Big Sugar notes that the Fanjul brothers, Florida’s fabulously wealthy sugar barons, keep legislators happy by donating to both major political parties. In return, they enjoy yearly government subsidies worth $65 million, none of which reaches the pockets of the oppressed workers, and all of which is extracted from the pockets of taxpayers, i.e., the rest of us.

In that post, we suggested that the average American consumes 90 pounds of sugar per year. In other posts, we quoted other numbers, all from valid but contradictory sources. The average person would be astonished by the tricks found up the sleeves of statisticians. Nobody really knows how many pounds of the white drug the average American eats every year. The estimates go as high as 170 pounds per annum. One thing is certain—it’s too much.

According to Jennifer M. Regan of Bamboocore Fitness, a hundred years ago, the American per capita average consumption was 4 pounds a year.

HFCS is Just as Bad as Sugar

Part 2 of “The Cost of Sugar Addiction” mentioned the radical YouTube video released in 2009 by Robert H. Lustig, the pediatric neuroendocrinologist with a definite prejudice against sugar. He calls high-fructose corn syrup “the most demonized additive known to man,” while assuring readers that it deserves every ounce of that demonization. The post also discussed insulin resistance, the metabolic syndrome, and diabetes: all closely connected with sugar consumption.

Part 3 quoted Gary Taubes on the metabolic syndrome, and on his belief that fructose is worse than other forms of sugar because, while the whole body somehow participates in metabolizing glucose, the task of assimilating fructose falls mostly on the liver. For the same reason, sugary drinks are worse than sugary foods because their glucose and fructose hit the liver like a tidal wave.

Every day, more and more health professionals feel totally comfortable in comparing the harm potential of sugar to that of alcohol or tobacco. One of them is Mark Bittman, a journalist who published a vegetarian cookbook. Part 4 discussed his ideas, and included some truly frightening estimates of the financial costs of the diseases resulting from sugar addiction. The numbers should have a sobering effect.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Not So Sweet,”, 2015
Image by Alex Barth

How One Man Lost 266 Pounds

Kelvin BurnettMark Manson is an author greatly interested in happiness, self-knowledge, habits, relationships, and several other areas of human awareness. He invited a guest blogger with a fascinating story, Kelvin Burnett, who lost 266 pounds by “getting his mind straight.” (A short time later, an expanded first-person account was published by Huffington Post as a reader success story.)

As a child, Burnett had meningitis, which put him in a coma and damaged his hearing to the point of legal deafness. At around seven, he was enrolled in a school for deaf kids, and had already started to gain weight. By high school, obese was the only word that fit. Clothes didn’t, and he couldn’t shop for them in regular stores, or go on amusement park rides. Furniture broke beneath his weight, and kids used ugly nicknames.

Burnett responded by playing football, where bulk was an advantage; watching a lot of TV; and pretending that he felt just fine about being oversized. Then he went to college, and gained so much more weight that he couldn’t fit in an airplane seat to go home for vacations. He writes:

By sophomore year, my relationship with food had likely reached the point of addiction…From what I’ve seen, the definition of an addiction is when your desire for something begins to interfere with the functioning of other parts of your life…I think I became addicted to the feeling of being full. So I ate, and I ate, and I ate. Food became my drug.

The One-Person Intervention Team

During a summer break, Burnett’s grandmother visited and scolded him vigorously for letting this happen. She reminded him of how, during the meningitis coma, his life had hung in the balance. That was something nobody could have controlled. But now here he was, a grown man, in a different kind of coma, a self-imposed one, on a road that only led to one destination, a miserable early death.

The shock of being taken to task by this normally mild-mannered grandmother was too much. He went to the gym and did something he had not done in a while—stepped on the scale. It registered 484 pounds and, Burnett says, “That number, by itself, was an intervention—like a hard slap in the face.” Wanting to start with something uncomplicated, he began riding a stationary bike every day for 40 minutes to an hour. After a couple of weeks, he started to like it. He says:

This was key. If you’re going to stick to a new lifestyle, you have to find a way to enjoy it. If you don’t find a way to enjoy exercising, you will never stick with it.

He switched to a diet basically consisting of fruits, vegetables and grilled chicken, with one cheat day a week, and by college graduation had lost 130 pounds. Now he could fit into an airplane seat, but at 350 pounds he was still not date-bait, and that was a concern. Further dietary adjustments and increased workouts were next on the agenda. As a child he had adopted the “fat kid” identity to be accepted, but as an adult he rebranded himself as the guy who was constantly losing weight. It gave him pride and confidence. Burnett wrote:

There’s always a simple choice to make in the present. Take those choices one at a time. Forget about yesterday. Forget about tomorrow. And just focus on what you can do no —don’t eat that dessert, go outside and walk 30 minutes. All of these things are a series of tiny choices, not any sort of dramatic lifestyle change. Do that and eventually, one day, you’ll find yourself on top, and you’ll hardly even know how you got there.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Winning the Mental Battle of Weight Loss: How One Man Lost 266 Pounds, 08/29/13
Source: “I Lost Weight, 09/02/13
Image by Kelvin Barnett

Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

streetOne obstacle to activism is the human tendency to become fed up. A cause can raise awareness, then reach a point of diminishing returns and even develop an emotional backlash. People get compassion fatigue. More than five years ago, Neville Rigby wrote for The Guardian:

We have obesity awareness with almost daily headlines, and continual debate, while the government’s Change4Life initiative is being promoted widely to the point where we need to take care to avoid message fatigue.

That was the situation in the United Kingdom on the occasion of the first European Obesity Day, and 15 (mostly Eastern European) countries had signed up for active participation. Like many other nations, the UK strives to limit health care costs, ideally without reduction in the level or quality of services, which is rarely possible.

In the European Union, the opinion that it would be good to exercise more control over junk food marketing was prevalent. At the World Health Assembly, the selling of sugar-sweetened drinks was also a major point of concern. Rigby quoted a couple of officials who talked about focusing on prevention rather than cure, and the importance of curbing obesity because of all the miserable and expensive diseases that come along with it.

Message fatigue was also the concern of Dr. Lauren Smith, who four years later, for the National Institute for Children’s Health Quality, wrote of the struggle to hold the public’s interest in a long list of worrisome health issues:

Given the many priorities and important issues that are competing for our collective attention, it is easy to understand how policy makers and the public become numbed to the recurrent “calls to action”…All of these issues are incredibly important and for those families and communities who are touched by them, each leaves a lasting legacy of sorrow and lost potential.

Dr. Smith speaks of adjusting our language to make problems more understandable to people who don’t confront them every day. She believes that the first necessary step is to actually have faith that thoughtful and creative efforts can really make a difference. The Centers for Disease Control website offers a list of ways in which parents can prevent childhood obesity:

  • Make sure children get adequate sleep
  • Follow recommendations on daily screen time
  • Take part in regular physical activity
  • Eat the right amount of calories.
  • Substitute higher-nutrient, lower-calorie foods for calorie-dense ingredients
  • Serve children fruit and vegetables at meals and as snacks.
  • Ensure access to water as a no-calorie alternative to sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • Help children get the recommended amount of physical activity each day

All of this brings on another kind of fatigue. Parents can really get tired of the constant, everyday struggle to enforce some kind of sane food policies in the home. But just to keep us on our toes, reminds us of the grim realities:

More than 23 million children ages 2 to 19 in the United States are obese or overweight. That’s equal to a third of the country’s children who are at greater risk for Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, not to mention added stress and anxiety from social pressure as they grow up.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Obesity awareness is not the problem,”, 05/22/10
Source: “Overcoming the Epidemic of Compassion Fatigue,”, 06/05/14
Source: “September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month,”, undated
Source: “3 Health Tips to Practice During National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month,”, 09/01/15
Image by Martin Abegglen

Taxes, Bans and Ballots

Knights in CombatLast year two California cities, San Francisco and Berkeley, had soda tax items on their ballots. The soda industry is said to have responded by investing $9 million in a campaign designed to stamp out any bad thoughts about their companies or products. Those elections attracted the attention of two experts, both from Cornell University, but with very different philosophies.

In an essay issued by the university, their positions are described. David Just teaches food marketing and economics, and does not believe that soda taxes are effective against obesity. Also, like every other denier of a connection between sugary drinks and the obesity epidemic, he states that soda taxes penalize the poor more than the rich. When it comes to repeating the party line, Prof. Just can be depended upon. Listen to this carefully honed pronouncement:

While drinking too much soda can lead to obesity, the best research out there shows it is not the soda that is making us fat. It is our overall diet and lack of exercise.

At least this soda apologist has the decency to refrain from claiming that calories don’t count. The statement begins with the astonishingly frank admission that obesity can be caused by too much soda. But the professor goes on to reinforce the big fib, the one that says people can drink all the sweetened beverages they please, as long as they set aside 10 or 12 hours a day for enough workouts to lose those calories.

Also, “the best research out there” makes scientific studies sound like low-hanging fruit that happens to grow on the Research Tree, and corporations just wander around gathering it. In reality, they carefully pick the scientists who do their research. “Best according to whom?” is another viable question.

In Favor of a Soda Tax

The other side is represented by Jeff Niederdeppe, who teaches communications and concentrates on the field of health messaging. He co-authored a study titled, “Americans’ opinions about policies to reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.”

First of all, Niederdeppe says, the advertisements produced by the American Beverage Association are engineered to confuse consumers and/or voters. For instance, their public relations material encourages the public to regard them as courageous knights who fight on behalf of the downtrodden peasants against a proposed turnip tax. In their propagandistic, rabble-rousing way, the ABA talks about a “food tax.” But there is a world of difference between a sugar-sweetened beverage and a turnip.

In Berkeley, more than three quarters of voters approved a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. As 2014 drew to its close, the contrarian California city became the first to institute a soda tax of one cent per ounce, and made $116,000 in the first month. They apparently had not determined ahead of time what to do with the money, and a panel was empaneled to decide. Meanwhile, in Washington D.C., Rep. Rosa DeLauro had proposed the SWEET Act, a national soda tax. Reason writer Baylen Linnekin is not a fan:

Rep. DeLauro publicly announced her intentions to introduce the tax during a videotaped appearance at the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s insiders-only “soda summit” in June, shortly before a New York State court sounded the death knell for New York City’s reviled soda ban.

If memory serves, what Mayor Bloomberg tried to do in New York was stop the sale of soda portions larger than 16 ounces, which, when you think of it, was kind of a quixotic move. All anybody would have to do, really, is just buy two. At any rate, that mild attempt could hardly be called a “soda ban.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Two Takes On The CA Soda-Tax Wars,”, 10/14/14
Source: “Soda taxes bubbling up all over,”, 05/28/15
Source: “There’s Nothing SWEET About the National Soda Tax,”, 08/23/14
Image by Jeff Kubina

More Childhood Obesity News Posts about Sugar

Cristales de papelon

Sugar cane crystals

Should sugar be the boss of us?” is a pertinent question, and Childhood Obesity News asked it in a post that featured actor, photographer, writer, and sugar addict Jennifer Walker. We also quoted from Dr. Pretlow’s guest appearance at, where he asked,

If there is such a thing as a gateway drug to food addiction, what might that substance be?

Sugar in the Driver’s Seat” discusses sugar as the ultimate gateway drug. Anyone who doesn’t think it’s addictive should be dared to quit it for a month. That could be a TV reality show. Get a bunch of people together and coach them through withdrawal as a group, in a closed environment where their chances to get the drug are minimized.

Lab Rats Are Sugar Addicts, Too

The trouble with that model is that when people are removed from their normal lives and put into forced contact with a cast of strangers, it’s a very stressful situation. They will not react to sugar deprivation in the same way they would in the wild.

An alternative would be to film each contestant separately in their own environments, which would mean including their families, jobs, animals, and everything from their normal lives. The production costs would be high, and the ambiance still stressful.

This post quoted the very useful list made by Carl S. Milsted, Jr., of “drug-like foods: chocolate, caffeine, sugar, high-fructose corn sweeteners, dyes, artificial flavors, charred meats, toasted cereals, fine ground flours, deep fried crunchies, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.” It also mentioned Steve Almond, author of Candyfreak, who says candy is “basically crack for children.”

In Sugar’s Grip” looked at an experiment with teenagers and milkshakes, and another with mice, cocaine, and sugar. “Skip Sugar Day” looked at a Yale School of Medicine study of the varying effects of sugar on adolescent and adult brains, and a German study of adipose cells in obese children. It included an interesting quotation from the documentary film Fed Up:

Only 30% of people suffering from diet-related diseases are actually obese; while 70 percent of us —even those who look thin and trim on the outside—are facing the same consequences.

How People Discovered the Truth about Sugar” speculated about how the religious season of Lent revealed the addictive nature of the white drug, and appreciated a description written by Jordan Gaines Lewis of the mesolimbic pathway. This post included a call to action:

When confronted with sugar, part of the brain shrugs and asks, “What’s not to like?” We can prevail only by making determined use of other brain areas—the ones that think.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Image by Cristóbal Alvarado Minic

Taxation and Other Attempts to Control Junk Food

Tax CollectorChildhood Obesity News would be hard-pressed to find another illustration as perfect as the one that accompanied “The Troubled History of the Soda Tax Concept.”
A huge peak shows where, in reaction to the threat of a federal tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, lobbyist spending increased ten-fold within a year.

By 2013, it had settled back to pre-threat levels, as corporations spent their money in other and maybe even more devious ways. The situation at the beginning of the year was combative, with battalions of attorneys standing at the ready, armed with numerous reasons why the government should not interfere with the aims and activities of their clients, the food and drink manufacturers.

In January, researchers from the U.S. and Italy issued a report to warn that, “during the last several decades, there has been a systematic underestimation of the hazards of obesity.” Given the number of “childhood obesity” Google alerts that flow through the ether each day, this is apparently no longer the case. The report also described the metabolic syndrome as “a constellation of obesity, lipid abnormalities, hypertension and insulin resistance, a precursor of diabetes,” and warned that 40 percent of American adults over age 40 already had it. Also, two-thirds of American adults were overweight or obese.

In 2014, all the big news originated in California. The state legislature was considering a bill that would require warning labels on juice and soda that contained added sugar and had 75 or more calories in each 12-ounce serving.

In September, Scientific American published a piece by Patrick Mustain about how the soda manufacturers observed Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. In a rather sarcastic tone, the writer saluted the American Beverage Association’s “long commitment to being a part of the solution to childhood obesity.”

The industry’s latest PR coup was the announcement of how it would “cut 90 percent of drink calories from schools.” This may have only happened because the writing was on the wall—the corporations knew that tighter regulation was inevitable, so they put a good face on it by volunteering to self-police, a little bit. The ABA bankrolled six grants, totaling $445,000, for obesity prevention projects, which Mustain describes in skeptical terms:

A pittance compared to the hundreds of millions spent on advertising, but a steal for the beverage industry–a small price for an attractive distraction. The six winners of this year’s grants were cities that for some reason did not address one of the most significant drivers of childhood obesity: sugary beverages.

He goes on to outline the latest atrocity—“a multi-million dollar campaign to crush a couple of California ballot measures aimed at increasing the price of sugary beverages”—and cites evidence that a soda tax could “reduce consumption, improve health and raise revenue for public health programming.” There, once again, is the problematic assumption that the money collected would be applied against obesity in any way.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “_Obesity approaching cigarette smoking as leading avoidable cause of premature deaths worldwide,”, 01/31/13
Source: “The Case for Health-Warning Labels on Soda,”, 02/18/14
Source: ““You’re Welcome.” How The Soda Industry Celebrated Childhood Obesity Awareness Month,”, 09/30/14
Image by The Presbyterian Church of Wyoming

To End Childhood Obesity, a Few Modest Proposals

sh14 mustardDeborah Cohen, M.D., a RAND Corporation senior natural scientist, published a book titled A Big Fat Crisis—The Hidden Forces Behind the Obesity Epidemic—and How We Can End It. In her view, humans are “biologically designed to overeat,” and thus need to be protected from themselves. This is a job for the government, which should “apply to unhealthy foods the kind of regulations  that have been so successful in limiting alcohol consumption.”

However, and with all respect to Dr. Cohen, “success” is not always the first word that springs to mind regarding limitation of alcohol use. Regulation has succeeded in bringing in tax revenues, and that is usually what people are aiming for when they compare junk food to alcohol or tobacco. Reviewer Susannah Cahalan sums up Dr. Cohen’s recommendations:

A tax on junk food. Taking a cue from tobacco and booze taxes, “similarly, increasing the price of foods most strongly associated with the risk of obesity and other chronic diseases could lead to reductions in consumption,” she says.

Like many ideas, this one sounds good for a minute. “Tax soda like tobacco” is such an attractive concept, an entire movement has grown up around it. But a big problem lies in the following assumption: “Plus, the money levied could go to defraying health-care costs associated with obesity.”

The operative word there is “could.” Yesterday, Childhood Obesity News mentioned a couple of states where tobacco tax money is used in ways that might not have been expected by the citizens who supported the tax. Each state has its own story. We like to think that our tax will buy a low-income child an insulin pump, so she doesn’t have to stick a needle in her belly every day. But it probably won’t.

In addition to taxation, Cohen suggested a number of other changes, summarized here in our words:

  • Portion sizes would be standardized, the same in every food-selling venue, and all food must be available in a single-portion size.
  • Grocery  stores would be smaller and only open a certain number of hours. And there would be no more displays of irresistible impulse-buy candy at the check-out counters.
  • Severe limits would be placed on the number of doughnut shops, ice-cream parlors, and candy stores.
  • Sales of candy would be banned anywhere but at a food retailer.
  • Junk food would be packaged with warning labels picturing the dire consequences of obesity and its co-morbidities.

Many times, people’s well-meaning ideas have unintended consequences. For instance, any obesity solution involving an increased use of packaging material would threaten the environment and induce a backlash.

Grocery stores display unhealthful products down at eye level for just the sort of child who is likely to make a fuss in public. Maybe it would help to stock the junk food way up high, where only grownups could see it. Then, a lot of things could happen, not all of them good. Kids will insist on being lifted up to see the vile treats, which might lead to an epidemic of parental back sprains. Or maybe, to get a better field of view, kids would stand up in the shopping carts, and fall and get hurt, and the grocery store would be sued for damages.

Impractical Ideas to Reduce Obesity

Cohen is quoted as suggesting that restricted grocery store hours would “require people to make a greater effort to plan their shopping and could reduce the frequency of impulse shopping.” The unworldly assumption of this condescending moonshine is so naive, it might have been lifted from Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop website.

Sure, if everyone planned their shopping better and restrained themselves from driving to the store for that special jar of brown mustard, it would save fossil fuel and promote cleaner air. But there is more than one reason why a person makes a single-item grocery run. Sometimes a spouse just has to get out of the house and is delighted by the chance to go and buy something.

The part about “shorter hours” is probably not feasible. It would be punitive to many customers, who perhaps live in food deserts already or work two jobs and really need for the only grocery store on the bus route to be open at night. Also, enforcing shorter grocery shopping hours would eliminate jobs, which is never a PR-friendly move.

Many people have excellent ideas that would be unenforceable, unless the entire political fabric of America were to be ripped apart and rewoven. If that happened, the country would face questions more crucial than cereal packaging.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Why gov’t should regulate food like tobacco & alcohol,”, 12/28/13
Image by Upupa4me

Some Feel Doubt about “Sin Taxes”

TaxesIn “The Tax Conundrum,” Childhood Obesity News quoted Dr. Kelly Brownell, who differentiates meaningful change from programs that, while praiseworthy, are widely considered to be mere window-dressing, like healthy eating campaigns and corporate social responsibility initiatives.

When Dr. Brownell speaks of meaningful change, he is talking about putting some rules around marketing, regulating nutritional labeling, and most of all, taxing harmful and useless products like sugar-sweetened beverages.

The assumption is that the money gathered by the government will be used to reduce obesity. The people who worry that it will not be used in that way have plenty of evidence. They only need to point to what has happened with tobacco taxes. Whenever citizens have the chance to vote for a nicotine tax, they are probably under the impression that the money will be used for medical expenses, education and prevention, quitting programs, and the like.

In other words, since cigarettes cause public health problems, the people who smoke them are made to kick in a little extra to help pay for the damage. It sounds reasonable. But as time goes by, some citizens begin to feel they have been subjected to a bait-and-switch tactic. If they take the trouble to find out where the tax money went, they see it ending up in all kinds of places.

Where Tobacco Tax Money Goes

Currently, the average cigarette tax is $1.60 a pack, but it is higher in many states: in Arizona, it sits at $2 per pack and in Washington it’s at just over $3 per pack. Nevada’s tax was a mere 80 cents per pack, up until July 1, when it leaped to $1.80. Ray Hagar reports:

It is expected to raise an additional $192 million for the state in next two-year budget cycle…All of the new funding from the tax increase is destined for the state’s projected $7.4 billion general fund…Much of the new cigarette taxes could go to education funding…

As Californians smarten up and smoke less, their state sinks deeper into insolvency. Preschool and early childhood services are on the chopping block. Deepa Fernandes writes:

Eighty percent of tobacco taxes go directly to fund programs for children under five…The funds were spent on such services as pre- and postnatal programs, nurse home visits for at-risk families, and quality improvements to preschools.

These designations were made, by the way, with voters’ approval, which makes a certain amount of sense. Why spend it on people with cancer who are just going to die anyway? The problem with this sort of allocation is that anyone who cares about young children might feel it is their patriotic duty to smoke.

Kansas has been struggling with the tax question, too. The state is staring a $700 million budget deficit in the face. The governor wants to put $100 million in the general fund by raising sales taxes on liquor and tobacco. But the tobacco industry, which naturally does not want its products to be taxed, sent lobbyists to the state Senate. Their job was to convince the legislators that all the talk about health benefits is a lot of hooey. The state just wants to put a bandaid on its fiscal crisis.

The state government has an answer for that. Because of the higher tobacco tax, people who might have started smoking will not start. The state reckons it will save 15,000 residents from dying of tobacco-related illnesses. And of course the state won’t be spending on health care for any of them. But the actual revenue that is actually collected, that will be going for other things.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Thinking Forward: The Quicksand of Appeasing the Food Industry,”, 07/03/12
Source: “State’s largest-ever cigarette tax hike burns smokers,”, 07/03/15
Source: “With tobacco tax revenues in decline, hunt is on to find another way to fund free preschool,”, 03/27/15
Source: “Opponents of tobacco tax say it’s all about the money,”, 03/24/15
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Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
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