Mexico recently passed the United States as the fattest major country, and America too has a new obesity king. Louisiana passed Mississippi for the dubious crown, with an obesity rate of 34.7 percent; Colorado remained slimmest with a rate of 20.5 percent. (Oklahoma was in sixth with a rate of 32.2 percent.)
The Trust for America's Health, which published the report, uses it to justify an agenda that tasks the federal government to spend taxpayer money pushing local laws and regulations reducing consumer choices. Others propose alcohol control policies as a model for “food control” because restaurant foods and packaged dinners are designed to be “addictive” and “obesogenic.”
But the evidence suggests that calling foods irresistible concoctions just like cocaine is bogus. The “addiction” claim is generally regarded as hype, with researchers from Cambridge University noting that “evidence for its existence in humans is actually rather limited.” The “evidence” mostly consists of brain scans that suggest people enjoy eating, hardly proof of a druglike addiction that warrants government intervention. (People's brains also react to enjoyable activities such as working out and listening to music.)
Indeed, the latest obesity statistics support a healthy serving of skepticism. Fast-food restaurants are supposedly the epicenter of “food addictions” and obesity, but then shouldn't Louisiana have among the most per person and Colorado among the least? In fact, Colorado has more fast-food outlets per person than Louisiana, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. A study by University of California and Northwestern University researchers also found no relationship between restaurants and obesity.
At the grocery store, Coloradans and Louisianans pick from similar products. The New York Times reported recently that the notion that so-called “food deserts” (areas supposedly lacking in grocery options) cause obesity is a mirage. A USDA study found that 90 percent of people who lived in these supposed obesity traps had access to at least one car that can take them to a supermarket.
Moreover, the activists' command-and-control plan for food ignores half of the obesity equation: physical activity. You gain weight by eating more calories than you burn in physical activity, not by consuming supposedly “bad” foods. Sure enough, Colorado and Louisiana aren't alike in exercise: Centers for Disease Control data show that more than 60 percent of Coloradans meet guidelines for 30 minutes of moderate aerobic physical activity per day, compared with 42 percent of Louisianans. (Coloradans may live in a more envious environment for outdoor activity than a Gulf Coast bayou, but certainly this doesn't mean food is to blame.)
Physical activity offers another benefit that invasive regulation of foods can't: It can be fun. You don't have to take after my fellow exercise nuts and do hours of CrossFit and white-water kayaking to fight fat. Something as simple as walking the dog can make an impact on personal weight. Unlike an “intervention” designed to make you hate eating, you might enjoy it.
Wilson is the senior research analyst at the Center for Consumer Freedom (www.consumerfreedom.com).