Zipping Toward the Finish Line

This zipper-themed series summarizes all the posts that tie together food, alcohol, and tobacco, to see what can be learned from attempts to limit alcohol and tobacco addiction, and apply that experience to curbing food overconsumption, and thus obesity.

“The Exercise of Well-Intentioned Control”

As we observed here, every attempt to scrutinize some corner of this enormous issue seems to generate more questions, and to reduce the number of what might have previously been welcomed as answers. In comparing the efforts to cut down on tobacco and alcohol abuse, and food abuse that leads to obesity and numerous co-morbidities, examples refuse to align precisely. Exact parallels are thin on the ground.

Nevertheless, there are enough similarities to cause trouble. When it comes to the question of attempted control through taxation, any anti-obesity activism in that direction is hindered by the extensive experience that Big Alcohol and Big Tobacco have already accumulated. To resist governmental interference, they have spent millions on clever lawyers and compiled a playbook from which Big Food can benefit.

“Where the Good-Intentions Rubber Meets the Reality Road”

We looked at government public relations announcements related to the 2012 anti-smoking campaign, and quibbled with the language that implied hundreds of thousands of smoking cessation successes on very little evidence. This is helpful to no one.

“More Rubber Meets the Road”

We also looked, not for the first time, at the public service announcement’s evil twin, advertising. Dr. Pretlow, along with many other health professionals and millions of parents, would be well pleased if all food advertising directed at children were to disappear. The industry is unlikely to make this happen voluntarily, so some type of government action would be required, and the battle would be ferocious and expensive.

The natural impulse is to look at what worked against smoking, and adapt it to obesity. We tend to forget what it took to get rid of some, and not even all, cigarette advertising — a long, grueling, costly battle.

When the government spends money trying to do something good, the people pay for the cost of that effort through taxation. When the industry spends money trying to do something bad, the people pay for the cost of these corporate efforts through price increases.

While nothing good can be said for a nicotine habit, food is necessary for life, and only some people develop health problems because of it. Seen through that lens, the worst food is more virtuous than the best tobacco.

Even though it suffers from the considerable disadvantage of occupying the moral low ground, Big Tobacco is a formidable opponent, and it has taught the food industry well. Sadly, any attempt to control that group of world-straddling corporations in any meaningful way appears doomed to encounter infinite resistance.

Like a trash-talking professional fighter, Big Food is perfectly positioned to say, “You don’t know anybody, that knows anybody, that knows anybody, that can knock me down.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Photo credit: Maria Rantanen (Idhren) on Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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