June 01, 2004

The Land(s) of Milk and Honey

Radly Balko had a piece in Time magazine that apparently advocated the proposterous notion that there is a behavioral component in obesity, and that this behavior (let's call it "overeating") is generally voluntary--therefore, the responsibility of the person who indulges in same.

He got savaged by the nanny-staters, who know better. Their arguments boiled down to "we're wrong, and you're right." What are you going to do with a thing like that?

Via James, whose opinions on this seem to be as strong as my own.

Posted by Attila at June 1, 2004 01:55 AM

Balko is, unfortunately, mistaken, and not supported by the scientific research. And it really, honestly, has little or nothing to do with nanny-statism, although certianly the nanny-staters might do bad things with the knowledge.

Moderate overweight is a diet and discipline problem. Obesity, unfortunately, cannot be corrected anywhere near so easily in the vast majority of people suffering from it.

People don't want to believe this. That's a shame.

Posted by: Dean Esmay at June 1, 2004 05:30 AM

What you're saying directly contradicts my experience. I have two family members who are obese, and I see them overeat every time I'm with them. I also saw my mother go from obese to only-a-little-round one year back in the 80s, but she started overeating again, and she's obese again. Personally, I think it's a way of keeping men away, but that's my own theory.

I understand that the current treatment is stomach-stapling, which may be a good first step for many.

There is behavior attached to this. And it's killing two people I love. And there's nothing I can do about it but watch.

Posted by: Attila Girl at June 1, 2004 11:36 AM

It is certainly the case that overeating can cause obesity. Now mind you, there is substantial evidence that many people can overeat and never become obese, and that many obese people actually eat less than some non-obese people. But certainly, eating is one component. But even then, there's a problem in the presumption that it's a two-way ticket: eat too much, become obese, so eat less, and you become non-obese? This is like saying, "smoking gave me cancer, so if I just stop smoking my cancer will go away." It's not that simple.

Chronically obese people tend to be experts at losing weight and typically have lost a great deal of it. The problem is that barely 1% of them manage to keep it off for good. Weird things happen to their metabolisms, their appetites, and everything else, in a spiraling, vicious cycle.

The problem I have with Balko's argument is that it's very binary--either the nanny staters are right or they're wrong. BUt I believe the truth is somewhere between; yes, there's a behavior component to obesity, and yes, it would be bad if government started deeply meddling in controlling food content, portion sizes, etc. I agree with all of that.

But... oh never mind. We'll be here all day. BUt I'll just repeat: research on the chronically obese shows that most of them don't eat a lot more than non-obese people, some of them eat less, and barely 1% of them can attain and achieve normalweight status through diet and exercise alone, and the more their weight cycles up and down, the worse off they are.

I begin to suspect that within the next 20 years this will all be moot; the new drug therapies and other options are showing more promise all the time.

Posted by: Dean Esmay at June 3, 2004 08:02 PM

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