Monday, March 18, 2013
I know Michael Bloomberg's "32 oz. soda ban" is last week's news - hey! I was recovering from a grave illness! - but, I feel like all of the commentary the proposed ban inspired failed to grapple with two fundamental issues.
1. what the hell was this supposed to accomplish?
2. what, if anything, can the government do to make fatties slim down?
Now, as a threshold matter, I have to say I don't buy this idea that "America is getting fatter," nor do I accept the sort of stats you see in the media (20% of Americans are obese! is one). We could all stand to lose a few pounds, maybe, but there isn't some great epidemic of tens of millions of grotesquely overweight Americans waddling around. Instead, we have what looks like a typical media/political "problem" created via creative statistic reading and adjustments to statutory definitions of "overweight" and "obese" such that people who 20 years ago would have been fat are now treated as morbidly obese.
That's not to say, however, that there aren't more fat people out there. Go to the mall, or Target, or downtown S.F., and it's hard not to find yourself thinking America - or at least my slice of it - has a weight problem. There are some serious wide loads out there, many of them young or young-ish. As with the poor, we've always had the chubby among us, but dear God, the sheer morbid rotundity on display nowadays is ghastly. Maybe I wasn't paying attention, but I don't remember seeing 500 pound women riding around in carts in Safeway 20 years ago. I don't recall seeing eight year olds who look as if they weigh more than my wife. Etc. And, not to get all judgmental but many of the truly obese don't look particularly prosperous or intelligent. (I'm sure they have great personalities).
So whaddya gonna do about it, if anything?
Well, Mike Bloomberg obviously thinks things have gotten out of control and wants to keep large portions out of people's hands, but shrinking the range of available soda sizes is just pathetic. It won't do sh*t! Not when so many obese people are clearly overeating and living lives that are either indolent (the welfare fat) or sedentary (the working fat). That extra 10 oz. of soda is, what, a couple hundred calories? Out of how many thousands a day you have to pack away to maintain a 300 lb. frame? It's a joke.
No, if Bloomberg were really serious about slimming New Yorkers down, he'd go out into the neighborhoods and tell all those people on food stamps and welfare that the free ride is over and that they would need to start eating right, exercising, and going to some kind of job during the day. Instead of banning soda cups, he'd stop bodegas from selling junk food to someone flashing an EBT card. He'd have roving press gangs out there rounding up unemployed fat people and putting them to work mowing lawns in Central Park, or some such. But, of course, he is not/never going to do this because people like Al Sharpton and Charles Rangel (both of whom, it must be said, have noticeably slimmed down the last couple years) would say it was racist or some thing.
So, instead, Bloomberg bans some freakin' cups - while leaving intact high calorie latte cups at Starbuck, btw. wake me up when this starts to make sense - because it's always easier to hassle a few thousand businessmen than it is to tell several hundreds of thousands of poor people to stop treating their bodies like garbage cans.
Really, though, why should the government do anything about this in the first place? The crippling cost of providing health care to the obese is always at the top of the list of rationalizations for this sort of thing, but how can that be? Have you seen any 80 year olds on life support in the ICU weighing in at 350+ pounds? Not me. All of that weight is a down payment on an early grave. I haven't run the numbers, but intuitively it seems like the early death of the typical fat person would ultimately leave a lot of health care spending on their behalf "on the table," so to speak. If we're going broke paying for health care, it's not so we can save the lives of the morbidly obese.
Even if there was some budget conscious reason to ban this or that food or food container, what's the point? Fat people aren't fat because of a conspiracy by McDonald's and 7-11 to "super-size" Americans. They're fat because of what inside their hearts. There's some physical or psychological need inside them that keeps them in a constant state of (1) eating and (2) not moving. Are they lazy? Depressed? Big boned? victims of abuse? Sure, probably. Or they might not know how to eat right and can't imagine that eating at Burger King everyday for 20 years is not the only food option available to them. (a lot of large men I know eat out for literally every meal. Someone would have done them some good teaching them how to pack a freakin' brown bag for lunch).
What law could you pass that could possibly cope with all of this? There isn't one.
America isn't getting fat, but some Americans are getting fatter. Unless Michael Bloomberg and his ilk are willing to confront the poverty and poor education at the root of many obese people's problems, all of their feel-good bans and smarmy speeches won't amount to a hill of (delicious) beans.