A modest proposal for childhood obesity

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Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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76 Responses

  1. Avatar ThatPirateGuy says:

    First, this O-bot finds that he agrees with you 100%.

    Second did you know that nutrition labels are actually the minimum amount of calories a a food can have? Some foods have 2-3 times the printed calories.

    Have a good weekend all.Report

  2. Avatar Bo says:

    Nice post. Very populist.Report

  3. Avatar Bob Cheeks says:

    This is absolutely brilliant stuff! If this keeps up you’ll find yourself in the gummint soon enough, and justly so.
    First they come for your fat, then your soul!Report

    • Avatar ScottBrown in reply to Bob Cheeks says:

      Do you ever stop and think about how silly you sound, Bob? Your soul? Why would the government want the poor thing?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to ScottBrown says:

        Why did the government want me to stop drinking alcohol in the 20’s?

        Do you think that it’s lost whatever impulse it may have had to inspire such a Progressive Constitutional Amendment?Report

      • Avatar Bob Cheeks in reply to ScottBrown says:

        If my only problem was ‘sounding silly’ I’d be ecstatic. But Scott, dude, read the Russians, Dostoievski, Tolstoi, … . read the Greeks, St. Augustine, Dante, et al…then you’ll know why the gummint wants your soul!
        And if you’ve already read ’em, read ’em again!Report

        • Avatar North in reply to Bob Cheeks says:

          Hell read Pat Robertson, Maggie Gallagher, Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell. The virtue of individual citizen’s souls is pretty much their primary interest and they’d like nothing better than that government be the arbiters of our souls, with their gentle and virtuous guidance of course.Report

          • Avatar Bob Cheeks in reply to North says:

            North, rather negative, heh?
            Well, I know you don’t think that way…I know you don’t need the gummint to tell you how to live, think, act…and that’s why you’re not a librul. Frankly, I don’t think most folks believe it, and I’m not a champion of the unwashed, as you know.
            Scott’s gotta ways to go but we’ll be patient North! And, BTW, I took no pleasure in Clinton’s heart ailment…told the wife the other day how bad he looked in Haiti…hell, he’s my age..well I gotta go shovel snow!Report

            • Avatar North in reply to Bob Cheeks says:

              What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander Brother Cheeks. I’m all about pointing out the grabby intrusive tendencies of the left, but I shan’t spare the comparable or worse tendencies on the right.

              Me not a liberal? You take that back! I consider myself a practical minded thinking liberal.
              You’re a kind soul, re Clinton, I was hoping he’d pass away and then haunt Obama and scare him into being tougher and less floofy.Report

          • Avatar Art Deco in reply to North says:

            There concerns are matrimonial law, adoption law, school curricula, aspects of labor law and landlord-tenant law, the tax status of certain sorts of philanthropic entities, and what assumptions about household forms are incorporated within the income tax code. You all fancy that the preferences of the appellate judiciary, the school apparat, and the public interest bar are ‘neutral’ and that Maggie Gallagher’s are ‘sectarian’; said fancy is rubbish.Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird says:

    What we need to do is increase penalties for the war on drugs. Death penalty, maybe.

    When I was a kid, we did stuff like “go outside” and “play tag” (godless children did things like “play ghost in the graveyard”).

    We played football, stickball, teeball, soccer, and came up with Calvinball variants. We went down to the creek and put tadpoles in a bucket and brought them back home.

    A spectre is haunting suburbia—the spectre of drugs. If we can win the war on drugs, we might finally allow children to go back outside and burn a calorie or two.

    Unless they get kidnapped. Maybe we ought to have a war on kidnapping as well. Death penalty, maybe.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

      I don’t know about the causes of the child sedentary-lifestyle, and I don’t get the sense you think you really do either, Jaybird. But I am failing to see how in pinpointing a lack of physical activity in today’s kids’ lives you think you’re putting any distance at all between your view of the obesity “crisis” and the First Lady’s. Maybe you’re not claiming there is any.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

        The number one cause of the child sedentary-lifestyle (finally! a lifestyle choice everyone can look down upon) is video games.

        When I was a kid, we had to play stuff like Battleship (which sucked) and Monopoly (which sucked) and Risk (which was actually pretty cool but required one hell of a time investment).

        So you might as well go outside. Hell, the Atari 2600 sucked. Seriously. It did. Pitfall and… what else? That’s it.

        So you might as well go outside.

        Now we’ve got stuff like Bioware for RPGs and EA sports for Football/Basketball/Baseball and 17 different flavors of first-person shooter.

        Indeed, even board games have gotten better. We’ve got stuff like Descent and Starcraft and Doom that are actually *AWESOME* rather than crap like Chutes and Ladders.

        No wonder kids are getting rickets before ballooning up to 300 pounds.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Jaybird says:

      Jaybird, be careful that the thing you propose is not too un-absurd. In Singapore (where I live), the Drug trafficking and Kidnapping do carry mandatory death penalties. And of course Singapore is so safe that children can be out in the street at 3 in the morning.Report

  5. Avatar Kirk says:

    The obesity problem is way over-blown, but how does this make the lack of access to health care on the part of the uninsured a “trendy and media-inflated crisis”? If libertarians don’t want people to think that they’re sociopaths, then they should stop mocking Americans dying from health care.Report

  6. Avatar North says:

    Agreed ED; it is pure pedigree nanny-stateism and a retarded waste of money to boot. I wonder how far down the hippie hole we’re going to have to descend before we find anyone who actually thinks the First Lady’s new crusade is a good idea?Report

  7. Avatar North says:

    On further thought maybe we can have a war on obesity. Lets try…
    Ending agricultural subsidies that produce unusually high quantities of corn (which is quite fattening as compared to other grains).
    Ending trade barriers so that manufacturers can use cheaper foreign sugar instead of subsidized local corn syrup for sweetening (again corn and corn products are significantly more fattening and have you ever tasted soda made with real sugar? Much better.)
    End the War on Drugs so that a lot of families suddenly have two members making it easier to keep an eye on the front yard so that junior can roll around outside and burn off some of that charming Charmin.
    Stop listening to the pearl clutching think of the children screechers from both the left and right. My parents and Grandparents somehow survived childhood being left to run wild outside. Why can’t my cousins and nieces?Report

  8. It’s not the food – it’s the lack of exercise. Turn off the TV and get outside.Report

  9. Avatar Alex Knapp says:

    In all perfect seriousness, the real obesity problem comes from the fact that we subsidize, give tax breaks to, and otherwise prop up and make cheap the least nutritious foods–grains, corn, CAFO beef, soy, etc. What we really need is to create is a FREE MARKET in agriculture, rather than have Uncle Sam push the waste product that is soybeans and the anti-nutrients that are wheat and corn.Report

    • Avatar Sam M in reply to Alex Knapp says:

      I am a free market guy, but I am not sure this is true.

      Yes, an end to farm subsidies might make Doritos more expensive. But here’s the thing. PEOPLE LOVE DORITOS. And I suspect they would choose Doritos over lentils, even if the former cost more than the latter. Wait. They do cost more than the latter. And people choose… Doritos.

      Yes, on the margins, this will have an impact. But people will risk life, limb and many other things in order to get what they like. Ever hear of someone who paid $750,000 for a 5,600 square-foot McMansion despite making $50,000 a year? Me too. Ever see a 22-year-old guy who makes $18,000 a year driving around in a $45,000 SUV, drinking tequila that costs $120 a bottle? Me too.

      That is, even if things reflect their “true prices,” some people are going to make choices that we find abhorrent. And I suspect that a huge swath of the public is realtively price-inelastic when it comes to junk they cram down their craws. They will buy fewer books. Go to fewer plays. Spend Junior’s college fund. Anything for fake tans and endless Doritos.

      I exaggerate, sure. But I think that liberarians can often oversell the idea that true prices lead to virtuous choices. People with bad meth habits really can’t afford it, you know.Report

      • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to Sam M says:

        I’m currently changing my diet to stop eating foods that are crappier for me than they are tasty.

        Stuff like doritos are right out because frankly, I’d rather have chocolate, humus and pita chips, tuna, or really most anything. If I get fat I’d like to at least enjoy the intake.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Sam M says:

        Well Sam, even if you’re right on this front ending the subsidies is still a good idea because at least we won’t be paying for them. So that’d free up some dough which is certainly useful all by itself. Plus then rural farmers could be genuinely free of wellfare instead of free of wellfare only in their heads.Report

        • Avatar Sam M in reply to North says:

          I am for ending them, too. I just want to be honest about the expected outcomes. I see libertarians run up aganst this all the time. “People who want to do drugs already do drugs. So legalizing them will not lead to an increase in use.” I think this is wrong, dishonest, or both.

          Sadly, my reasons don’t sell well. Namely, I think people should be allowed to kill themselves with meth if they want to. Will making it legal lead to more people wanting to? I bet it will. But I would prefer to legalize them anyway.

          See what I mean? I ain’t getting elected to anything anytime soon.Report

          • Avatar North in reply to Sam M says:

            Well I’d consider voting for you though I suspect we’d part ways over moral/religious/social issues.
            Still, legalizing meth might make more people use it but it’d also make it much more likely the using meth wasn’t lethal. Or alternatively by legalizing drugs for pleasure in general people who would otherwise use meth would bypass it in favor of cheaper/safer alternatives.Report

          • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Sam M says:

            I think this is about right, Sam. What I’d add is that in the case of all, or virtually all, bans, you wind up decreasing use at the margins, amongst the people for whom the use was relatively unimportant. So you get a significant net drop in overall usage, but not much (if any) of a drop in actively dangerous usage. Meanwhile, you do get a whole new host of collateral problems arising from the black market that replaces the old legal market. This is a politically difficult argument to make, but I think also a very strong one, by which I mean you can’t easily explain it in 30 seconds or less.Report

  10. Avatar zic says:

    This is a great example of pettiness in conservative politics.Report

  11. Avatar Bob Cheeks says:

    You know, with the exception of the indomitable “Zic” I don’t think there’s a decent librul on this site!Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Bob Cheeks says:

      Bob, I’m a neoliberal thanks. But how could you leave out Freddie.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Bob Cheeks says:

      Yeah, what the hell, Bob?

      I’m, like, to the left of Mark Twain.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Bob Cheeks says:

      Yes, it’s rapidly reaching echo-chamber status, and really not much worth the bother of reading/responding.

      I’m particularly enchanted with the libertarian thought purity, which means discussing politics/policies as folks would like them to be instead of as they are.

      At least there’s some good sci-fi discussion on actual books to balance out the fantasies.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to zic says:

        Echo chamber? That’s harsh and unfair plus it’s painting us liberals in a bad light.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to zic says:

        “Yes, it’s rapidly reaching echo-chamber status, and really not much worth the bother of reading/responding.”

        Zic, I say this seriously:

        Be the change you want to see in the world.

        If you want more voices like your own on this website, you need to add your voice to this website. The thing that will keep this from becoming an echo chamber is your participation.Report

        • Avatar zic in reply to Jaybird says:

          Jaybird, I admire you. You’re by far my favorite personality here.

          But it ain’t worth the effort. Like I said a few days ago, it’s a place for gentlemen and Grandmother Spider’s concerns are not welcome.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to zic says:

            And with that attitude it will remain ever thus.

            I wish you would come in and throw down. There are probably younguns out there who might feel the way you do and don’t feel safe coming in here and throwing down. These are the same voices you wish you heard more often! Show them that it’s safe.

            And if someone gives you crap for being not being a gentleman or for being a grandmother spider, point me at them. I’ll kick the shit out of them.Report

            • Avatar JosephFM in reply to Jaybird says:

              Like Freddie, the throwing down does get a bit much/hard to keep up sometimes. I know I have not always been gentlemanly enough.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to JosephFM says:

                That’s because, at the end of the day, we’re not arguing politics or aesthetics or even movies but we’re really arguing *THEOLOGY*.

                And when people find that their gods have been pricked, oooooh… watch out.

                I try to do my best to keep in mind that all of us have small gods inspiring us to hold this view rather than that one. It’s very easy to say that my gods are the true gods and your gods are actually demons masquerading as gods and they’ve deceived you… too easy.

                Keep in mind that other people love their gods and try to act in accordance with their precepts and, for the most part, it’s a lot easier to avoid jumping to the conclusion that they are wicked. If you pay close attention, you can begin to recognize the voices of the small gods of others. If you pay extra-special close attention, you might even begin to recognize the voices of your own small gods (the ones that yell “those other people are wicked!”, anyway).

                After that, the *REAL* fun begins.Report

              • Avatar JosephFM in reply to Jaybird says:

                Yes, I’m pretty much at that point now. The problem seems to be worst in arguing with people who either aren’t, or whom I can’t tell about.

                I don’t ask that you agree with me, just that you don’t act like I’m an idiot or malicious. That ought to be fair.Report

            • Avatar Art Deco in reply to Jaybird says:

              I take it that means ‘Dave’ is due to get the sh*t kicked out of him.Report

    • Avatar Bob in reply to Bob Cheeks says:

      So Bob, it’s your fantasy that us liberals, pardon me, commie-dems, embrace ever proposed government power grab? Oh, I thinking flag burning amendment, federally dictated end of like decisions, defining marriage in the Constitution. Jezz Bob, you know better, or do you?Report

      • Avatar Bob Cheeks in reply to Bob says:

        Bobby, one never knows what’s in the psyche of a librul; sometimes it’s the pernicious plans to expand the central gummint, other times, the confused ramblings of a college edumacated kid!
        Bob, I’m here to help…I love you kids.Report

      • Avatar Art Deco in reply to Bob says:

        Marriage requires a constitutional definition because the judiciary refuse to respect the prerogatives of legislatures and are engaged in a series of power grabs. Not our fault.

        The flag burning amendment was a public relations ploy by Bush-pere and has been a dead letter for near on twenty years.Report

    • Avatar JosephFM in reply to Bob Cheeks says:

      Yeah, thanks for that Bob.

      I really appreciate it.Report

  12. Avatar Sam M says:

    Pettiness. Heh.

    More broadly, I think this is important: “Mrs. Obama took personal responsibility for her own children’s near-miss with childhood obesity…”

    Doesn’t the fact that you can avoid a health threat through personal responsibility sort of mean it’s not a “public health” threat? I mean, if the public has TB, you can get TB. Or rabies or cholera. So I can see the need for some collective action.

    But obesity? Sure, a lot of people are fat. But how does that amount to a public health threat?Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Sam M says:

      It isn’t. It’s just excuse making for parents which polls well in the country.

      Is little Johnny getting bad grades? Must be the teachers, the school, the superintendant, it can’t have anything to do with the fact the parents let the little reprobate get away with murder in class without discipline or that they don’t help/make him do his homework and assigned reading.

      Is little Johnny getting fat? Must be the plague of ghostly fat disease or the nefarious marketing gurus of Nabisco that are making him fat. It can’t have anything to do with the parents that think good nutrition is putting green peppers on his pizza or buy him caramel coated cheesy poofs just to shut him up when they’re shopping. It surely can’t have anything to do with them not wanting him to play outside because that’s where the germs are and there may be predators hiding behind the fire hydrant!

      And sadly the wingnuts on the left side of the party are happy to enable those delusions. And the opportunists of both parties are happy to pander to them for some cheap votes.Report

      • Avatar Bob Cheeks in reply to North says:

        North, olde palsy, you and me are just a couple of short steps apart! Sooner or later you and I are goin’ to be sittin’ in the same pew…!Report

        • Avatar North in reply to Bob Cheeks says:

          I don’t know Bob, I’m significantly behind you in the education department for philosophy and theology. I’m quite lacking in the faith and religious departments. Also I’m a complete neophyte in the picking on the liberals field. But I’ll offer my thanks for the compliment.Report

  13. Here’s maybe another take on the obesity issue: we’re programed to sit around and get fat if there’s nothing better to do. By “nothing better to do” I mean go out and get food. Neolithic man had to run all day, every day to get food. The evolutionary advantage he had over other animals was that he could outrun them—not run faster, but run longer; he could tire any animal out to the point of exhaustion and then go in for the kill. After a hard day’s run, he jogs back to the camp with an animal over his shoulders and picks up tracks for another one. Shit! He now has to put the first animal down and chase after the second one. No rest at all for the nomadic hunter-gatherer. But when there was enough food and no reason to go out hunting, then he could kick back and just get fat if he could.

    So that’s the point: exercising and dieting are not natural; they go entirely against the grain of our own evolution. It’s entirely natural to sit around and get fat, if we can, because that’s what helped us maintain our evolutionary advantage.

    Today’s world vitiates our inborn evolutionary characteristics. Now they’re disadvantages, not advantages, but modernity has been too short a period to affect our genetics yet. So today we must rely on rationality if we don’t want to get uselessly fat. We not only get no help at all from our genetic makeup but this works against us in this case. There is no government program that will ever change this. Anti-obesity programs are all just a way for the government to expand into the private sphere and thus should be opposed. If people don’t have the basic dignity and self-respect they need so as to avoid turning into fat slobs, then the government can’t help them. If parents don’t have the willpower to enforce their basic dignity and self-respect and prevent their kids from sitting around playing video games and getting fat, then the government can’t help them either.

    People can be fat slobs if they want to and they can make their children into fat slobs too—because they’re their children they can abuse them by making them fat slobs, Christians, or whatever. On the other hand I can’t see why other people should end up paying the costs of these people’s choices. They should be made to pay for their obesity-related diseases, knee and back operations, etc etc out of their own pockets and not drive up insurance costs for everyone else. If that happened then maybe people would stop destroying the perfectly good bodies they were issued with at birth because they couldn’t afford to any more.Report

  14. I have to say that I agree with Zic.

    This post is both extraordinarily petty, conflates policy issues which have nothing to do with one another and is well…frankly just beneath you, E.D.Report

  15. Avatar Patrick Duffy says:

    I used to be on the local school board. The school lunch program included free and reduced price lunches for students from low income homes. Some checking found that less than half of the kids that were eligible for free or reduced price lunches were actually getting them. Essentially, they couldn’t give that school lunch stuff away. But MO thinks she can save the children from themselves, their parents and their schools by requiring the negligent local school employees to only serve “healthy” foods. Guess what? Short of forced consumption (“you can’t leave the cafeteria until you eat all of your broccoli. And don’t even think about claiming that you have to go to the bathroom.”), it isn’t going to work.Report

    • Avatar JosephFM in reply to Patrick Duffy says:

      School lunches are notoriously low quality.

      Also, “allowing private companies to run school cafeterias”…you mean like in college where you have some crappy contractor like Aramark or Chartwells preparing the exact same tasteless gunk as if they worked for the government directly?

      Also, I daresay that the reason Wal-Mart isn’t in these areas has little to do with zoning and a lot to do with the fact that it’s not profitable for Wal-Mart without massive startup subsidies.

      I don’t understand how conservatives can decry crony capitalism with one hand and then demand more of it with the other.Report

      • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to JosephFM says:

        At Ole Miss Aramark was better tasting than the school lunch in TN.Report

        • Avatar JosephFM in reply to ThatPirateGuy says:

          Well okay, at least they do have the decency to operate really solid salad bars.

          I suspect my views are shaped by my lack of meat-eating, but I also recall the eggplant at Central Florida being bad enough that it made me sick.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to JosephFM says:

        As far as cafeterias are concerned, why doesn’t anyone in america think of running cafeterias so that they operate like food courts. The school owns the premises and rents out stalls to particular private vendors. Even for government subsidised schools, they can keep the rent low enough that stalls will be able to compete on price (and taste) Keeping recess hours to 20 min long is also going to shorten the time people spend eating (Which means that they have to eat something light instead of stuffing themselves)

        And before you say that this would cause prices to spiral out of control, note that this is by far the standard model in every school in Singapore (except maybe those elite international schools and the madrassahs)

        Whether or not this will affect obesity is another issue.Report

  16. Avatar Aaron says:

    You forgot the best part of the cap-and-trade system! You can purchase “calorie offsets” to fund hunger programs in Africa of dubious origin to help make yourself feel better about eating excessively!

    Snark aside, I’m not sure obesity really is quite the problem it’s made out to be. Haven’t they done a number of studies that have shown that when you control for BMI, that the level of physical activity determines health much more than weight?Report

  17. Avatar Philip says:

    First stuff them full of aspartame, high fructose corn syrup, bleached refined flour, soda and heaven knows what else then complain that they are unhealthy. Next they will try to sell diet pills to kids to “cure” the problem

    http://healthjournalclub.blogspot.com/Report

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