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On Obesity
by Brian S. Wise

Just as the smokers have successfully sued the tobacco industry for their bad habits, so will the obese go after the food industry for their overeating. And Southwest Airlines - watch out.

On Obesity
Brian S. Wise
Friday, 21 June

The Wall Street Journal’s Shelly Branch begins her article “Is Food the Next Tobacco?” (June thirteenth, page B1) as such: “Fearing they may be held responsible for the nation’s expanding waistline, U.S. food and beverage makers are going on the defensive with obesity.” Really? In what ways? “Some packaged-food companies are contemplating advertisements that would discourage consumers from overeating their products.” Ah-ha. “A handful [of said companies] are giving exercise equipment to schools and expanding the health-and-wellness information on their Web sites.” Here’s the important part. “And others, mindful of tobacco’s litigation woes, are mulling legal issues in case they are accused in lawsuits of fomenting a burgeoning national health crisis.” Have they thought about warning labels? Surely people will know better than to overindulge when they see a warning label.

Similar issue, different upshot: Southwest Airlines has adopted a policy for its heavier passengers in the name of others, wherein those who are too large to comfortably fit into one seat, or if in the course of being large they crowd or otherwise inconvenience someone next to them, they’re going to have to buy an adjoining seat into which they can comfortably expand. Here one trusts the airline will make logical exceptions, such as moving obese passengers to wherever there is already an extra empty seat free of charge, saving the extra expense for those times where there are no alternatives. In the light of new government standards for obesity, it should be said Southwest isn’t going to use them, relying instead on common sense, singling out the sort of obesity where one’s shadow takes on a weight of its own.

Now what about these? The overall issue is obesity itself, and who – if you can believe we are forced to ask the question – is responsible for it. Is it possible we will one day see the same sort of legal headhunting against, say, McDonald’s we are currently seeing against tobacco companies? Not so much possible as probable; wherever someone can manage a grievance (be it real or imagined), and wherever evidence of said grievance can be easily displayed, government will eventually talk itself into filing a lawsuit in the name of those whose lives have been ruined by the dreadful products in question. For their suffering, we will be told, the obese should be compensated in appropriate ways … that way, of course, will be a sizable settlement check, not a lifetime membership to a health spa, complete with personal trainer.

Certainly sounds like a job for the feds (sarcasm), that is if lawyers in private practice don’t beat them to it. The Journal article goes on to mention several examples of settlements or lawsuits filed, beginning with McDonald’s agreeing to donate $10 million to Hindu groups (for “billing its french fries as vegetarian, even though they are made with a beef flavoring”) and ending with the DeConna Ice Cream company, which “faces a class- action lawsuit in Florida for understating [Big Daddy Ice Cream’s] fat-and-calorie content.” Ms. Branch notes, “While the current litigation mainly targets companies for allegedly misleading claims, not for selling fattening foods per se, some legal experts see the cases as the DNA for future obesity suits.” Indeed.

Sooner or later, there will come along a lawyer who cannot control the visions of dollars dancing through his head, and he will be the first to take the case of Fat Joe Smith versus McDonald’s in the matter of his obesity. That lawyer – not to forget the next twenty or thirty who take similar cases – should be drawn and quartered, their remains placed high atop a meat processing plant as a warning to the others.

Perhaps you’ve noted a certain irritation. This cannot be denied; it exists because no one, save the 400 pound strippers featured so prominently on the Jerry Springer Show, truly wants to be obese, yet so many of the obese do nothing to rectify their situation, choosing instead to stay on the exact same course that got them there in the first place. One wonders why; this simply cannot come down a simple matter of sloth, there’s something much deeper at work.

Whatever that thing is certainly varies from person to person, of course, but of this we are certain: the federal government shouldn’t be suggesting any such remedy; government asking obese Americans to contain themselves is akin to putting a Band-Aid on Nicole Simpson’s throat wound – there may be good intentions behind the idea, but it’s truly an example of the fat leading the fat. (Self control is quite the message, so long as it doesn’t come from an entity who takes in and spends 2.3 trillion dollars per year, while continually managing to run deficits.) The message is okay, just not coming from that messenger.

Walter E. Williams asks, “Whose business is it if I choose to be fat?” Well said; the answer is, it’s absolutely no one’s business, until and unless you refuse to admit you are responsible for your own position in life, deciding instead to take your lack on control out on the McDonald’s corporation. Then you are pushing your significant personal failures off onto others. If you accept the tenet obesity is a “health care crisis,” (What isn’t?) it logically follows most of the obese (we’re excepting those whose condition is out of their control, say because of a glandular problem) have long ago chosen and implicitly approve of their condition. Their consequences – heart problems, diabetes, whatever – are their own, following years of personal disregard taken to debilitating access. Leave the obese to their choices, but let’s not stand for a moment and allow others to be blamed for their lack of restraint.

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