Jewish World Review Nov. 9, 1999/28 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760
Coming soon: The Fat Tax
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just released a new study.
Americans, say the CDC, face a new epidemic -- fat people.
The CDC calls nearly 18 percent of Americans "obese," meaning that nearly
one in five of us weighs more than 30 percent above the ideal. From 1991 to
1998, says Dr. Jeffrey P. Koplan, director of the CDC, "We had a 50 percent
increase in obesity in all age groups and in all ethnic groups. We've had a
steady increase throughout the 20th century, but this is a remarkably quick
upturn ... We don't have a simple answer why." Gee, I dunno, maybe people
are, like, eating a lot.
But if one defines "fat" as being above the ideal, but less than 30 percent
overweight, this expands the fat pool considerably. Under this more generous
definition of overweight, a Tufts University study found 63 percent of men
and 55 percent of women fat. Shocking!
One newspaper editorial, calling the results a "public health crisis,"
condescendingly said, "So, as soon as you finish this paper, lace up your
shoes and go out there and walk as if your life depended on it. It does."
Does this pattern sound familiar? First, we call something in which
Americans voluntarily engage, whether smoking cigarettes or purchasing
handguns, a "public health crisis." Then, Congress holds hearings to explore
"alternatives" or "solutions." Next, we get regulation. Finally, Clinton
declares Halloween trick-or-treating a national disaster, triggering the
release of FEMA funds to distressed neighborhoods.
Don't laugh. Yale University Professor Kelly D. Brownell suggests taxing
unhealthful foods. According to Brownell, Americans are being seduced by
"our toxic food environment," which offers up a "diet that is high in fat,
high in calories, delicious, widely available and low in cost." He
recommends policies that would subsidize healthy foods like fruits and
vegetables, while taxing "unhealthy" foods such as those high in fat and
cholesterol. He proposed channeling the proceeds into nutrition education
and public exercise programs.
A "Twinkie tax," says Brownell, would encourage people to make healthier
eating choices. "As a culture, we get upset about Joe Camel, yet we tolerate
our children seeing 10,000 commercials a year that promote foods that are
every bit as unhealthy."
Hey, why not? After all, the government tells us that nearly 400,000 people
die prematurely from cigarette smoking. To get this number, the government
simply "credits" cigarettes with a death if the deceased smoked, no matter
the decedent's age, weight, or lifestyle. So if a 97-year-old guy dies in
his sleep, but paramedics find a pack of Winstons on the night stand, make
Now the CDC tells us that almost as many die from heart disease, a
condition caused or exacerbated by an unhealthful diet. In short,
McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's kill. So attorneys general, start your
lawsuits! Why not a class action lawsuit against C&H Pure Cane Sugar? After
all, these manufacturers probably knew that sugar rots teeth and provides
little nutritional value, yet they nevertheless continued distributing the
product without warning labels. Evil personified!
Oh, sure, some killjoy will remind us that Americans live longer and better
than ever, and that, sooner or later, people die. From something. But such
cynicism cannot stop the tofu-eating, tree-hugging, anti-smoking,
I-can-look-out-for-your-health-better-than-you-can zealots who now have a
new freedom-eroding cause -- slimming down fat people.
Somewhere, actor-director Rob Reiner trembles. He, after all, spearheaded a
California proposition that placed a 50-cent tax on cigarettes. The portly
Reiner, who seems quite capable of getting the best table at Fatburger's,
could face a serious tax liability. But will Reiner, a rich man, suffer? No,
a fat-tax, like the one on cigarettes, would fall directly on the shoulders
of those least capable of affording it -- poor people. Studies show the poor
more likely than the rich to eat an unhealthful diet, and therefore, they
comprise a disproportionate number of the obese. But, then, this is for
their own good, right?
Hillary Clinton tells us "it takes a village." President Clinton, however,
recently lectured those who dislike him, and thus refuse to support Al Gore
for President. "I don't think mature people," said Clinton, "hold one person
responsible for another person's conduct, do you?" Well, yes. For "mature
people" hold gun manufacturers responsible for the thug who kills, and hold
cigarette manufacturers responsible for those who smoke despite warning
labels. And now, "mature people" assault the eating habits of others.
Is obesity harmless? Obviously not. But do we ask too much by allowing
people to govern their own behavior?
So the "it takes a village" people carry on, with attorneys general,
politicians, academics, and regulators happily marching along. As somebody
once put it, "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of
the people some of the time. And that's
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©1999, Creators Syndicate