J. KARL MILLER: Nanny state can't protect us from obesity

Wednesday, June 13, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:51 p.m. CDT, Saturday, June 16, 2012

Is it "curiouser and curiouser" or just sillier and sillier?

I may have mentioned this before, but I have attended tent revivals, a voodoo rite in Haiti, the world's championship etouffee contest in Eunice, La., at least two county fairs, a Kinky Friedman for Governor rally and a goat roping. However, I have seen nothing to rival the nanny state's comic war on obesity.

First, let me make it clear that I have no problem with first lady Michelle Obama's campaign against youth obesity. It is a noble gesture and in keeping with former FLOTUS efforts such as Eleanor Roosevelt versus racial inequality, Nancy Reagan and "just say no to drugs," Laura Bush and children's reading, Hillary Clinton and health care and even Bess Truman's struggle to clean up the colorful language of our blunt spoken 33rd president.

Nevertheless, we have been subjected for several years to the Center for Science in the Public Interest's (Food Police) insidious campaign to empower the government to decide what food and drink you may consume. Food activists have joined the battle by proposing legislation, litigation and, of course, the progressive mantra — taxation — as the methods of choice.

That this idea has taken root is exhibited by the center's executive director, Michael Jacobson's admission, "We could envision taxes on butter, potato chips, whole milk, cheeses and meat." The center, or "Food Police," has proposed suing doctors who "don't adequately warn patients about obesity," suing parents who allow TV sets in children's rooms, limiting the portion sizes served in restaurants and stepping up its objections to fast food in general.

The crusade by the center, or "Food Police," against tasty but allegedly artery-clogging cuisine was jump-started by its joining the American Soybean Association in the 1980s by attacking coconut oil in movie popcorn as high in saturated fats, favoring soybean or corn oils instead. It was later proven that coconut oil was far healthier than the others, and the adverse publicity proved harmful to exporting countries. But never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.

This utter foolishness has led to such ham-handed excesses as San Francisco's banning of children's toys in McDonald's Happy Meals, New York Gov.  David Paterson's proposed 15 percent "obesity" tax on non-diet drinks and the seizure of a 4-year-old elementary school student's home-packed lunch because "it did not meet the USDA guidelines for a healthy meal."

However, even the nation's "Nanny Mayor" Michael Bloomberg's cockamamie notion to combat obesity by banning sugary drinks in larger than 16-ounce servings is not the most absurd by far. That dunce cap belongs to one Sam Pizzigati, editor of Too Much, the online weekly on excess and inequality, and his commentary in last Wednesday's Missourian.

Mr. Pizzigati claims the spike in U.S. obesity began in the 1980s, coincident to the surge in income inequality. He employs the "findings" of epidemiologists to show that social status and stress move people to consume, along with other "relaxants," increased amounts of "comfort foods" featuring sweets, fat and salt.

However, before we point fingers for obesity at the "greedy" one percenters, Republicans, Bain Capital or fast foods, let us have a reality check. The last time I looked, rice, beans, cabbage, carrots, turnips, etc., the primary diet of most of the non-obese world's population, are readily available and much cheaper than the so- called comfort foods. It is a stretch to equate social stress with an unhealthy diet.

Except those suffering from a medical condition, obesity is a matter of personal choice. Placing the blame for obesity on stress and lack of social status is as nonsensical as is the notion that it can be cured by executive fiat or be legislated out of existence. Our government is confronted with urgent responsibilities — protection of our shores, public safety, maintaining the highways and delivering the mail – but the slimming of America is not one of them.

To be sure, the government should encourage proper diet and fitness; nevertheless, the onus for conquering obesity begins at home with parental supervision as the linchpin. When children leave their parents' nest, diet and fitness become an individual, personal responsibility.

The sole requirements to control one's weight and maintain a modicum of fitness are will power and moderate exercise.

As anyone with normal eyesight can observe, obesity is on the increase, particularly among children. However, the solution is definitely not "Big Brother" at the dinner table and standing guard on the pantry and refrigerator.

Instead, it is time to pry the kids away from the computer and TV, take away their hand-held games and, if they are not so inclined to organize and play games, put them to work instead. And, if you find that your clothes are rather snug (they have a tendency to shrink in drawers and closets), join them. Remember, they are your responsibility.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via email at Questions? Contact news editor Laura Johnston.

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mike mentor June 13, 2012 | 8:47 a.m.

The word responsibility was used a couple of times in the last few paragraphs. Wouldn't it be nice if we all knew what that word meant and practiced it. I would argue that enablers like Mr Pizzigati or Mayor Bloomberg are actually doing a disservice to the fight against obesity. Absolving people of their own responsibility for the choices they make and providing them with a list of excuses as to why they make poor choices so they can then rationalize their own behavior to themselves is detrimental to those peoples well being. This has been shown over and over again in other areas of dependence! Yet, on they go with the dog and pony show...

Speaking of that subject. This same New York actually has a bill that cleared committee to legalize 2.5 ounces of medicinal pot. Like no one ever has problem with their activity levels with that stuff. Oh the irony...

The lack of accountability in this country is already staggering and it seems to me that the liberals main focus is to absolve people of their own responsibilities. This may buy them votes from the unashamed, but not me!

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 13, 2012 | 8:57 a.m.

Never mind obesity, let's talk about the premise of the Nanny State: the population (meaning you and me) are deemed too stupid, profligate, and lacking the ability to plan and self-regulate our lives, so the Nanny State is there to do that for us. (Gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling to know that.)

It fascinates me when intellectuals and/or pseudo-intellectuals, who pride themselves on not being the sort of persons I've characterized above, also push the mantra of the Nanny State.

Maybe it's the "two animal" syndrome, given us by George Orwell in his allegory "Animal Farm."

"All animals are equal.
But some animals are more equal than others."

The educated "animals" who insist on shilling for the Nanny State must be those "more equal" animals. After all, somebody has to run a Nanny State. What do you think Colonel?

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking June 13, 2012 | 9:08 a.m.

mike mentor wrote:

"Like no one ever has problem with their activity levels with that stuff. Oh the irony..."

I take it you've also heard of "the munchies". :-}

Few people understand that merely 100 calories excess/day, over 10 years, adds up to about 100 extra pounds. That's a 1 oz bag of snack crackers or a light beer every day.

The main problem with our food supply is that there's so much of it.


(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro June 13, 2012 | 10:57 a.m.

Better to alter the items food stamp users can purchase, as folk will just buy and guzzle down a 2 liter bottle of soda pop.
Let's ban the food stamp purchases of heavy laden high fructose corn syrup products like "Sunny-D," Coke & Pepsi products, high salt products like "TV dinners," and canned spaghetti-O's, Also, with all the food stamp users increasing under the Obama administration, it might be appropriate to limit protein, meats/fish/fowl and produce products to those costing no more than, let's say, $3.49 per pound.
(Why should a government food program allow the purchase of $5.99 a pound cherries and $9.99 a pound steak? Meanwhile their kids "need" buddy packs and "free" summer food programs?)
Obesity has now become a government concern as ObamaCare political supporters are jockeying to administer some kind of adjustment to the masses and their healthy/non-healthy eating habits and subsequent expenses on socialized medicine. (If you're going to be a government food nanny, be a good nanny over the food program you are nannying. And if you really care about health and health care, dismantle ObamaCare and work on a tiered delivery system with minimum, not maximum government control.)

As an aside, gas prices and feed prices are not the only reason we're paying high prices for meat/fish and some produce products. Greed, and whatever the market will allow, also impacts food prices.
Grocers know that there's a large group of people with "free food money," who will spend it on higher priced "luxury" items.
Cash purchasing consumers are competing with food stamp users who are buying top cuts of beef, crab and shrimp.
Just visit Moser's and you'll see that these higher priced products get sold to food stamp users. Happily.

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum June 13, 2012 | 11:45 a.m.

LOL. Another absurdly provocative post by young Shiller!

(Report Comment)
Greg Allen June 13, 2012 | 1:05 p.m.

I haven't been following this story in the news lately. Is 'Food police' a term used by the government or the media in general? Or is it a creation by Col. Miller? Whoever is using it is appealing to emotion rather than rationale. They want us to agree without thinking it through.

'Utter foolishness... ham-handed... cockamamie... absurd... dunce cap...' (all within a single paragraph). Logic fallacy: appeal to the ridiculous (it's ridiculous because I say it is).

Personal responsibility: yep, we could use a good dose of it. But like sociologists and psychologists denying that each other exists or has any legitimacy, personal responsibility needs to be balanced with the effect of social forces on the individual in order to address the whole picture. If we only fight about who is right, or holds The Truth, we miss the Real Solution. (I'm not suggesting that the Col. or other posters have brought this up. But it underlies a lot of the belief structure that we frame our struggles in).

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro June 13, 2012 | 1:53 p.m.

("Food Police")
Although, I believe it's more of a concern over the intrusion of government into our choices by legislating behaviors beyond food.
For example, there's political push for not allowing rain water collection and its use by citizens on their own "privately owned" land and efforts to fine people who sit in their cars and idle for more than two minutes, waiting for their friend or in line at a drive-thru.
Democrats even want to encourage the young children of food farmers to give up their inherited food farms and farm wind.
(I just can't wait for the day when I have a belly full of wind. YUM-O!)
Meanwhile, the constitutional things our government should be doing gets ignored or not administered well... with impunity.
Oh the Audacity of Arrogance.

(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller June 13, 2012 | 3:05 p.m.

Mr Allen,

I did not invent the term "food police"--that was created soon after the Center for Science in the Public Interest began offer solutions to existing as well as non existing problems, relying on emotional stimulation in lieu of research.

As for "ridiculous because I say it is ridiculous," I don't want the government nor any non-elected body of "experts" at my dinner table, in my pantry or telling me what I can pack in a school lunch for my children (I have great grandchildren).

My succinct statement "Except those suffering from a medical condition, obesity is a matter of personal choice." stands. The actions of the City of San Francisco, Mayor Bloomberg or any other entity or person to shift the blame from the individual are, in my opinion, absurd.

(Report Comment)
Greg Allen June 13, 2012 | 3:19 p.m.

Mr. Shapiro: thanks for the reference. But please be careful putting the unecessary G at the end of my name; Mr. Bush may not want to be confused with me.

Col. Miller: thanks, also. Especially for addressing me as Mr; even if we disagree I like the decency you show. Truth told, I agree with a lot of the spirit of this piece. I just like to diminish the unecessary divisions we take on (which includes orientations, none of which are absolutely right or wrong), and look at a whole picture before deciding what we should do.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor June 13, 2012 | 3:57 p.m.

Ray can go off the reservation sometimes IMHO, but he hit the nail on the head with this one. The federal government was born out of a need for the individual states to collectively defend their borders. The main charge of the federal government was this mission. Yet today, our federal government is sending armed agents to peoples homes that are critical of the EPA, they are supporting legislation that is unconstitution, and they are failing miserably at defending our borders.

I was pretty young back in July of '76. That's 1776... But I remember some dudes signing what turned out to be an important document that started like this...

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

There it is. A tryannical government that passes laws limiting my pursuit of a 54oz soda is to be altered or abolished!

(Report Comment)
R. Whitfield Smith June 13, 2012 | 4:31 p.m.

The problem with expecting parents to monitor the eating and recreational habits of their offspring is that the parents are where the problem originates. Check out the size of adults walking down the streets these days or malingering at the mall. We're doomed until we have either a world war with rationing imposed or a bigger recession than the one we're supposedly done with!

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum June 13, 2012 | 5:59 p.m.

Miller, there's an obesity epidemic. How do you suggest we address the problem?

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking June 13, 2012 | 6:18 p.m.

Obesity is fundamentally a personal choice, Louis. No one force fed them. How far should we go in protecting people from their own bad choices, especially ones that don't affect people around them to any extent?


(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum June 13, 2012 | 7:16 p.m.

Obesity is a personal choice the same way chain-smoking and shooting heroin are... On top of that, it costs society a lot of money to take care of the terminally corpulent - most of which exist on the lowest tiers of the economic strata (i.e. they don't have health insurance coverage). Furthermore, insurance premiums go up as it becomes more certain that people will suffer health-related problems associated with poor food-choices.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush June 13, 2012 | 9:40 p.m.

Just obesity?
Nor terrorism, measles,
Nor texting drivers,

Heroin, bath salts,
Suicide, vandalism,
"Stand your ground" stalkers.

(Report Comment)
Delcia Crockett June 14, 2012 | 4:28 a.m.

@"The main problem with our food supply is that there's so much of it."


A few decades ago, we were sold on the idea that the food supply was running out - that families could not be born, and everyone was to limit any and all in natural supply. We were told to have one-point-five children, or no children at all.

So, the divorce rate increased in multiples, two parents were needed to pay bills, and corporate greed stung thw work force while we became a nation of instant gratification with feeling of entitlement that one was the only one that counted in "the me generation."

Advertising fed us this idea and made profit margins rise for the greed machine that began to gobble us all up.

We waste more than we have ever in our history and the shape of our bodies in an over-medicated society bears out the facts that the numbers will continue to rise.

We have been sold on the idea that we must drive "the right car," "live in the right house, "wear the right shoes," and even "use the right soap" or we are not special, and that leaves only one thing - gobble it down and the stomach enlarges and hunger more and eat more until one is so huge one cannot move. That is talking on a cell phone while dragging your child, along and ignored with its feet barely touching the ground and leaving your child to someone else to "nanny" and then giving your child a fast food cold bagged supper while television babysits your child until bedtime each night. But, by golly, you are in the "right car" while wearing the "right shoes" while using "the right soap" and you can gobble to your heart's content until your heart burst wide open and you die before your time.

Just make certain that the population does not grow, but make sure one person is entitled to waste it all.

We have been sold on that concept.

Picture an obese Nero or the ever-fat king of old, reclined and gobbling as the music played and the lusty dancers swayed while their civilizations crumbled.

We're there, and it is getting worse. Our generation, following WWII, was handed a jewel, but we have ransomed our future. We got the gold, but the future generations get the barren shaft with debt load and enviromental problems that will kill them in their tracks. It's already got out men by the cajoles and we are in for the roller coaster ride of our life if we try to stand up to it.

Maybe it is too late to stop the Nanny State now?

~bunny aka Delcia

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking June 14, 2012 | 10:57 a.m.

I agree with a lot of what you say, but I don't think it's anyone's fault but the people that practice the excess consumption. No one forces people to listen to advertisements, or buy anything (except for a few administrative things like car insurance and licenses). Successful companies give consumers what they have found they want - if not, they would go out of business, and many have.

Louis and Gregg:

It's important to differentiate between choices that have no or few consequences to those around one, and choices that definitely have influence. Terrorism, leaving yourself open to a preventable contagious disease, and inattentive driving have obvious potential to harm others.

Heroin, bath salts, and suicide are far less likely to do so. These are far more individual choices that pretty much harm only the user. As far as the drugs go, much of the mortality and crime that surrounds them is because they are illegal, and also that doses and purity are unregulated. Suicide is also an individual decision.

Vandalism of course harms others property, and "castle doctrine" situations often reduce the need for either perpetrator or victim to actually use deadly force (the perp will leave or back down when confronted with an armed victim). I'd argue that anything with little effect on others should be legal.

As far as insurance costs, if we are OK with allowing insurance to pay for diseases resulting from other bad choices (smoking, cirrhosis, AIDS, etc.) then we have to allow it to pay for obesity related disease. One way to reduce insurance costs for people that take care of themselves is exclusion of treatments associated with these behaviors (and I understand some policies do that). However, since lifestyle diseases also occur in people that do not live that lifestyle, and it is difficult to verify lack of bad chgoices, most companies simply roll the cost of treating lifestyle diseases into their general premiums. It's likely cheaper that way than fighting, say, a legal battle against a non-smoker that was denied benefits because he got lung cancer.


(Report Comment)
Delcia Crockett June 14, 2012 | 11:26 a.m.

I was speaking of the mindset, the herd mentality, the soap opera drama that everyone has to conform to one idea of what is going on at any given time, and we were led by "studies," etc. that we would be irresponsible if we had families even if/when we never asked for a handout for the family.

Then that mindset stigma placed on families did not seem to change the course of thought of mass consumption, in that the idea is self-indulgence without control and "if it feels good, do it" of the entitlement concept that all is up for grabs went unchecked.

For example, Hub and I had a family. We are family orientated. Sometimes herd-mentality folks that want to rule the private lives/decisions of others, gasped to find out that we had a family and did not conform to the thought that all is a matter of instant gratification, but we have met like families every where we have been and they are happy, full complete.

I have never asked the government for anything, and that is where I think this country is making its greatest mistake - in the feeling of entitlement that is without common courtesy and respect for others, but is steeped in a want to just use it all.

If we only use what we earn, and we all earn what we use - and if we can stay within our budgets, then our elected should remain in its budget.

That simple.

We do not need nannies when we are all adults, and we should leave the heck alone anything that belongs to anyone else.

Some folks want you to pet them to death - and I am here to tell you that we do not have to. Our private decisions and our private lives are own and when we have worked hard to earn it, we should not have to hand it to the government to pay the way of those who have nothing better to do than be deceitful, mean and take from the rest of us. That is all some people can do - sit on their oversize cabooses and make life into a living mess for the rest of us or try to.

Some of us find a peaceful way out. :)

Ouch! Politics!

(Report Comment)
mike mentor June 14, 2012 | 11:54 a.m.

If you get any more reasonable with your posts, we are going to have to boot you ;-)

(Report Comment)
Delcia Crockett June 14, 2012 | 12:13 p.m.

@Mike Mentor:

Nope. Will start a grass root movement, if the boot happens - which is as unlikely as the proverbial snow ball in you-know-where.

Doob has been posting for years and is one of the most intelligent, nicest posters you will ever run across in Blogland.

For sure.

He does not disagree, he discusses, and he makes points. Even when you can counterpoint, he is still on the same gentleman wavelength.

Gotta respect that.

For sure.

(I have never met him in real life, by the way.)

(Report Comment)
Delcia Crockett June 14, 2012 | 12:15 p.m.

@"As far as insurance costs, if we are OK with allowing insurance to pay for diseases resulting from other bad choices (smoking, cirrhosis, AIDS, etc.) then we have to allow it to pay for obesity related disease."


Something else we have to pay for that we have not used.

They are killing us off - and forgetting it is our money and not theirs that they demand!

(Report Comment)

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