Weight a Minute, Here

For all of you who have decided that losing weight is simply too difficult, here is some good news:

In an ambitious 478-page report, the IOM refutes the idea that obesity is largely the result of a lack of willpower on the part of individuals. Instead, it embraces policy proposals that have met with stiff resistance from the food industry and lawmakers, arguing that multiple strategies will be needed to make the U.S. environment less “obesogenic.”

I’m so glad the report had hundreds of pages. The sheer amount of electronic paper has helped to convince me of the veracity of the findings, whatever they are.

“There has been a tendency to look for a single solution, like putting a big tax on soda or banning marketing (of unhealthy food) to children,” panel chairman Dan Glickman, a senior fellow of the Bipartisan Policy Center and a former secretary of the Department of Agriculture, told Reuters. “What this report says is this is not a one-solution problem.”

I’m beginning to understand. Yes, I must eat less–and exercise more. Got it.

The traditional view that blames obesity on a failure of personal responsibility and individual willpower “has been used as the basis for resisting government efforts — legislative and regulatory — to address the problem,” says the report. But the IOM panel argues that people cannot truly exercise “personal choice” because their options are severely limited, and “biased toward the unhealthy end of the continuum.”

For instance, a lack of sidewalks makes it impossible to safely walk to work, school or even neighbors’ homes in many communities. So while 20 percent of trips between school and home among kids 5 to 15 were on foot in 1977, that had dropped to 12.5 percent by 2001.

This is why I’m a believer in many traditions–including the one castigated above: they do not require my government to treat me as though I am a child, or even as an adult of diminished mental capacity.

More social engineering (and more tax incentives for building sidewalks) simply add to the existing social engineering and the current tax loopholes to make the system increasingly complex, burdensome and expensive for the people who foot the bill–you and me and Joe taxpayer. And, if one constrains people to do certain things, the people often choose to do other things as soon as the constraints are removed. That is, external control only takes you so far before you need self-control to continue. At least, that’s what my study shows.

Speaking of taxpayers, I wonder how much of our money went into this report? On second thought, don’t tell me–it will only discourage me from exercising and instead I’ll probably consume another candy bar to feel better about myself.

There is no question that environment is an influence upon us. But to claim that we are powerless in the face of environmental factors seems to simply undergird the traditional view of obesity, does it not?