January 25th, 2013

“Hey, I’ve got an idea!” say the obesity police. “Let’s bring back the stocks for fat people!”

Yeah, that’ll work.

No, it’s not really the stocks that David Callahan, former Harvard lecturer and president emeritus of health policy think-tank the Hastings Center, is asking for. He:

…calls for increased stigmatization of obese people to try spur weight-loss across America.

The senior research scholar says fat people should be treated like smokers who have become increasingly demonized in recent years and thus ‘nudged’ by negative attitudes of those around them into giving up the unhealthy habit.

There’s a lot going on these in that single suggestion. First and foremost, we have the increased empowerment of the do-good-nanny-state police who’ve received so much support recently from Obama, Bloomberg, and the like.

Second, we have a profound misunderstanding of how weight loss works:

…health and obesity experts have criticized Callahan’s paper branding him ignorant and irresponsible

Dr Yoni Freedhoff, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa and an author on obesity, told MailOnline: “The one thing that’s not lacking in society is the stigmatization of people with obesity.

“If guilt and shame were sufficient to fuel long term weight management, the world would be a very skinny place indeed. Obesity is mulch-factorial and driven by the world in which we live.”

Callahan’s article itself is well worth reading for a look into the Brave New World we face if the health police have their way—and they are increasingly having their way. I make the reference to Huxley’s dystopia purposely; it is not at all far-fatched. Most of Callahan’s article shows an interesting combination of bad science and coercive politics, a winning combination in which he details the seemingly-intractable problem—that nothing we do seems to help overweight, except for a few individual outliers who manage to lose weight and keep it off—and then offers a fairly alarming solution (government “nudging”) without any evidence that it might work either, except a false analogy to smoking, a problem with a very different mechanism.

Not to mention the fact that there’s a fair amount of evidence that being overweight (not obese, but overweight) is not a health problem at all—and you have a perfect storm of non-science plus leftist social engineering masquerading as science. Here’s a little sample of the article to give you a taste of its flavor [emphasis mine; as well as correcting multiple spelling errors]:

I believe only the government’s power to tax, to regulate, and on occasion to come close to mild coercion would be sufficient to make a difference. The private sector could have a role to play by voluntary self-regulation and incentive programs, but that could likely be done only in ways that would not financially hurt industry or alienate its customers. Yet fully deploying government power has been difficult politically. Not only does industry oppose regulation, but there are political limits to how much government can do to change individual behavior—whether by limiting television viewing, requiring exercise, or restraining market forces…

It will be no less necessary to find ways to bring strong social pressure to bear on individuals, going beyond anodyne education and low-key exhortation. It will be imperative, first, to persuade them that they ought to want a good diet and exercise for themselves and for their neighbor and, second, that excessive weight and outright obesity are not socially acceptable any longer. They need as well to be mobilized as citizens to support a more invasive role for government. Obesity is in great part a refection of the kind of culture we have, one that is permissive about how people take care of their bodies and accepts many if not most of the features of our society that contribute to the problem. There has to be a popular uprising when so many aspects of our common lives, individually and institutionally, must be changed more or less simultaneously. Safe and slow incrementalism that strives never to stigmatize obesity has not and cannot do the necessary work.

This isn’t really about overweight, is it? It’s not even about science, since it doesn’t rest on science. It’s about one out of many increasing inroads on personal liberty in the name of public health—a public health that, as the government becomes more involved in health care insurance and therefore in health care itself, will afford the health policemen such as Callahan more and more opportunities for government power and intrusion into our lives in the name of furthering that health.

I’ll close with a passage from Brave New World, just to refresh your memory (before the book is banned as subversive):

“Isn’t there something in living dangerously?’

There’s a great deal in it,’ the Controller replied. ‘Men and women must have their adrenals stimulated from time to time.’

What?’ questioned the Savage, uncomprehending.

It’s one of the conditions of perfect health. That’s why we’ve made the V.P.S. treatments compulsory.’

V.P.S.?’

Violent Passion Surrogate. Regularly once a month. We flood the whole system with adrenin. It’s the complete physiological equivalent of fear and rage. All the tonic effects of murdering Desdemona and being murdered by Othello, without any of the inconvenience.’

But I like the inconveniences.’

We don’t,’ said the Controller. ‘We prefer to do things comfortably.’

But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.’

In fact,’ said Mustapha Mond, ‘you’re claiming the right to be unhappy. Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer, the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.’ There was a long silence.

I claim them all,’ said the Savage at last.

Mustapha Mond shrugged his shoulders. ‘You’re welcome,’ he said.”

27 Responses to ““Hey, I’ve got an idea!” say the obesity police. “Let’s bring back the stocks for fat people!””

  1. Upstate Says:

    Two things: support needed for “a more invasive role for government”? Dear Lord, help us!
    and…
    the “right to be lousy” — now there’s something to fight for

  2. vanderleun Says:

    A top comment at the link reads: “Excellent idea! Why not propose the same for old people (like Prof. Callahan)? Nobody wants to see them except other old people, and we certainly don’t want to smell them. So, beginning shortly after their 65th birthday, they should be hounded and stigmatized so they’ll stay out of sight. Once they become a burden on the health care system they may need further “nudging” to consider offing themselves – for the good of society of course. We’ll start with a “dude you’re too old to be seen” campaign. If you’re not sure you’re too old, well you are. Now that you’ve been shamed out of sight,well really, what kind of a life is that anyway?”

  3. MissJean Says:

    This part irks me to no end: “they ought to want a good diet and exercise for themselves and for their neighbor”

    You nailed it, Neo. This is about nosing into our neighbour’s business and using tax monies to create another government program.

    And what false premises! I could introduce him to four people who were overweight and lost weight DESPITE the comments/abuse of other people.

    That includes a man who used to drive to a parking garage in Detroit and walk for hours because people don’t hang out in a parking garage. When he walked on the sidewalk, people slowed down to yell or throw things at him. When he tried mall-walking, women and men both made rude comments and packs of kids followed him around hurling abuse at him. The poor fellow has an illness that results in hypothyroidism, so it takes a monumental effort for him to stay fit.

    Besides, if I can shame my neighbor for being overweight, why can’t he shame our other neighbor for being an unwed mother? She and her child are more likely to have an adverse effect on society, in terms of costs. She’s also fat, but she’s part Samoan, so that’s racism, right?

    And can we all harrass our elderly neighbor across the way? She’s thin, but she dresses too young and she drives her Corvette like a maniac. That’s got to cause some societal damage, right?

    Speaking of which: Callahan is 82. Shouldn’t he be shamed into stepping down and making way for a younger person? He’s standing in the way of progress. :)

  4. Lizzy Says:

    Hey, what happened to all of those lectures about tolerance, and eradicating hate speech? Now they’re telling us who we’re allowed – no, encouraged – to demonize! Amazing, and yet entirely predictable based on how they went after smokers.

    If those are the new rules, then by all means, let them introduce some of their beloved ‘fairness’ into this social nudging effort and start demonizing other unhealthy or dangerous activities such as smoking cigars, riding motorcycles, rock climbing, base jumping, and sexual promiscuity. What, just because these are things that cool people do shouldn’t make ‘em off limits, right?

  5. neo-neocon Says:

    Lizzy: if you actually read Callahan’s article, he’s in favor of “softer” coercion. Here’s some of it (I really can’t resist quoting this guy at length—and I’ve corrected the spelling again; what’s up with all the spelling errors?):

    But can there be social pressure that does not lead to outright discrimination—a kind of stigmatization lite? That will, I concede, be a difficult line to walk, but it is worth a try. I would couch the social pressure in the following terms, finding ways to induce people who are overweight or obese to put some uncomfortable questions to themselves:

    If you are overweight or obese, are you pleased with the way you look?
    Are you happy that your added weight has made many ordinary activities, such as walking up a long fight of stairs, harder?
    Would you prefer to lessen your risk of heart disease and diabetes?
    Are you aware that, once you gain a significant amount of weight, your chances of taking that weight back off and keeping it off are poor?
    Are you pleased when your obese children are called “fatty” or otherwise teased at school?
    Fair or not, do you know that many people look down upon those excessively overweight or obese, often in fact discriminating against them and making fun of them or calling them lazy and lacking in self-control?

    That last question in effect aims to make people acutely aware of pervasive stigmatization, but then to invoke it as a danger to be avoided: don’t let this happen to you! If you don’t do something about yourself, that’s what you are in for. Many of the other questions invoke vanity as a value, or the good opinion of one’s neighbors, friends, or fellow employees, or the risk of illness. Use all of them together, carrots and sticks. That will not much help most of those who are already overweight or obese. But beyond marginal improvements, most of them are already lost.

    So in those last two sentences he reveals that even he believes these little “nudges” will not help the already overweight or obese!

  6. Lizzy Says:

    He says that we shouldn’t stigmatize the overweight, and yet he thinks it’s necessary to apply “public social pressure…to awaken them to the reality of their condition. ” Really?

    First, people know when they’re overweight, they don’t need other people to point it out to them (except for their doctor). And I think the amount of money spent on diet & exercise products in this country would confirm an acute body/fitness awareness already exists.

    Second, with the exception of maybe smoking and drunk-driving, we’ve been conditioned to not stigmatize people for other harmful behaviors, such as promiscuity, having children out of wedlock, smoking pot, relying on public assistance, etc. I recall that after the campaign to eradicate smoking took off 10+ years ago it emboldened people to confront smokers (and I’ve witnessed more than a few well-intentioned but ugly attempts at shaming smokers amongst colleagues & friends).

    I just don’t trust this new found government interest in “nudging” people to behave in a certain way.

  7. Occam's Beard Says:

    Hey, what happened to all of those lectures about tolerance, and eradicating hate speech? Now they’re telling us who we’re allowed – no, encouraged– to demonize!

    This.

    What happened to the “fat is a feminist issue” stuff? Or the sanctimonious anti-bullying speeches?

    I’m ambivalent about this. Social disapprobation can be useful in effecting the homeostasis of society without the invocation of formal legal strictures. (Witness, e.g., the contemporary mainstreaming of illegitimacy, and contrast it with the situation of 50 years ago.)

    On the other hand, it’s disturbing to have such disapprobation organized under color of authority, as in this case. I’d rather see less accommodation for the grossly obese (on public conveyances, for example), and in particular that we stop using euphemisms such as “large,” “heavy,” or my favorite, “big-boned.” They’re fat, let’s face it.

  8. Ray Says:

    Those people are control freaks. After they convinced the public that smokers were a menace and got smokers banned did you think they would be satisfied? They were simply emboldened.

  9. George Pal Says:

    I had, for the longest time, thought it peculiar that the intellectuals, professoriate, educrats, were among the first to buy into Adolf’s solutions to what rankled the Aryans. Now I understand it would have been peculiar if they had not. It seems continued exposure to whack ideas presented in pseudo academic gibberish in the form of theory with great expectations of having discovered another –ism makes people queer, authoritarian, oppressive, repressive and triple nut crazy. Forget the lawyers; first we kill the intellectuals.

  10. neo-neocon Says:

    George Pal: it’s also the temptation of thinking they’ll be the ones to finally be allowed to shape human beings into the perfection they’ve been longing to create. How great would that be, instead of churning out these ineffective articles?

    Hubris and power, in other words.

  11. Ann Says:

    If you look at Daniel Callahan’s CV, you’ll see that from 1987 to 1992 he was on the board of directors of the Society for the Study of Social Biology, an organization originally named The American Eugenics Society.

    Interesting.

  12. Inkraven Says:

    If anyone with influence really wanted to do anything about America’s weight problem, they’d be working tirelessly to do away with corn and corn subsidies and subsidize fruits and vegetables instead. If a bag of Doritos was $8 and apples were 10¢ each I bet we’d see change.

  13. neo-neocon Says:

    Inkraven: you know what? I think government should butt their bloody noses out of it. I really have come to think that.

    If people want to buy Doritos, so be it.

    Then again, local governments are different from the federal government. Local governments have more power to nanny-state us into oblivion. But I still don’t like it when it comes to controlling food choices, and lots of other things besides. But I don’t think a local government taxing Doritos, for example, would be unconstitutional. I wouldn’t want to live in a community with so little respect for liberty, though. I think I’d move, even though I don’t ever buy Doritos (not because I don’t like them, though :-)).

  14. Occam's Beard Says:

    If people want to buy Doritos, so be it.

    No Doritos, no peace!

    Seriously, neo, I agree.

    One problem is gaining access to exercise facilities, such as tracks and athletic fields. Schools used to allow others (*cough* taxpayers *cough*) to use their facilities, but now that is increasingly rare. They’re locked up like a drum now, so individuals can’t use them, and schools charge more and more for granting access to organized sports. (For example, our local high school trebled the fee for our league to use its baseball diamond, so we lost the use of that field, and other schools regularly threaten to deny us access for the flimsiest of reasons (e.g., parking in the neighborhood).)

    We don’t need government intervention, subsidies, or programs. We could use local government entities to stop imposing impediments.

  15. Sam L. Says:

    I am being discriminated against, and that is WRONG!

  16. Lizzy Says:

    OB, did you see this?
    “Keeping up New Year’s resolutions to get in shape might get tougher thanks to Santa Monica City Council’s proposition to ramp up regulations on outdoor fitness classes this spring”
    http://tinyurl.com/ab95zvn

  17. n.n Says:

    The original campaign, “love yourself as you are”, its offensive counterpart, “love others as they are”, and its umbrella agenda, “self-esteem (without merit)”, had “unintended” consequences. Now Obamacare provides a perverse incentive for men and women to indulge in their base appetites. Once again, they prefer to treat symptoms in perpetuity (and for profit) rather than to address causes, which is why they expanded the pool of contributors while ignoring the causes of progressive inflation.

  18. n.n Says:

    re: treat symptoms… for profit

    It is similar to Bloomberg’s proposal to limit the size of cups. It is similar to Democrats’ proposal to control law-biding citizens’ right to keep and bear Arms.

  19. parker Says:

    If DC achieves total control of healthcare they will mandate what you will eat-drink, how much you will eat-drink, how and how much you will exercise, what drugs you may or may not take; and then they will branch out into areas that involve ‘stress’ and dictate what you may read, watch, etc. all closely watched from above with a drone.

    And they laughed at Palin’s death panel comments!

  20. Occam's Beard Says:

    “Keeping up New Year’s resolutions to get in shape might get tougher thanks to Santa Monica City Council’s proposition to ramp up regulations on outdoor fitness classes this spring”

    Lizzy, no, I didn’t, but it comports perfectly with my point. Thank you.

  21. expat Says:

    Before Twiggy, people sort of accepted their body type. Afterward, if you weren’t skinny and didn’t look good in the “in” clothes, you went on trend diet after trend diet, each resettting your normal metabolism–the yo-yo effect. At about the same time women started to find cooking regular meals for their families oppressive, so kids never learned to like vegies or to sense when they had had enough to eat. More and more fast and junk food was available, and more people could afford it.

    Another factor we are learning about is the microbiome, which includes the bacteria we need to digest foods. Increased antibiotic usage can distort what was a functional relationship between us and our bugs. Some people can eat quite reasonably and still get fat. We also can’t rule out simple genetics.

    Callahan’s stupid idea to shame people, even if you have no idea of their circumstances, is arrogant and tyrannical. Any “expert” who thinks diet and exercise will make everyone skinny should consider Oprah.

  22. parker Says:

    “Before Twiggy…. consider Oprah.” That encompasses a thought on the scale of the mid-Atlantic rift zone. There be volcanoes and a whole lot of lava in between.

  23. Lizzy Says:

    …And right on cue, Drudge links to an AP story that discusses whether or not healthcare should be withheld from smokers and the obese. http://tinyurl.com/bb94aty

    The rationale is that the the costs to deal with their bad habit-related health issues is an unfair burden on the rest of us. This is exactly why I opposed ObamaCare.
    Not only will politicians use healthcare costs it to micromanage our lives, but it emboldens people to constantly judge others’ health-affecting choices.

  24. Don Carlos Says:

    Bioethics began about 25 years ago, when a UPenn prof designated himself a “bioethicist” and set up the Bioethics Center that he of course headed.

    Bioethics is a totally left-wing endeavor. It has nil to do with ethics as the word is commonly and historically used and understood. Just like eugenics has nothing to do with good genes.

    When seeing a bioethics statement, I recoil in horror. It is like looking a pit viper in the eye without glass separating us.

    Ezekiel Emanuel MD, brother of Rahm and a major force behind the, ahem, ethics of Obamacare, and Hillarycare before that, is a certified bioethicist. Based on my own personal interaction with him years ago, he is also a facile and gratuitous liar.

  25. Don Carlos Says:

    The Hastings Center is NOT a “health policy think-tank”. It is a bioethics center, pure and simple.

  26. nolanimrod Says:

    The only problem is the people who keep giving mental pygmies like this clown any sort of notice because so long as they do he will keep yapping and snuffling like a crazed Boston Bulldog.

  27. MissJean Says:

    OB wrote: “One problem is gaining access to exercise facilities, such as tracks and athletic fields.”

    Absolutely. I was surprised when I moved to this small town that the local schools let the public in to walk the halls after school, train in the weight room (under volunteer trainer), and use the pool (for $3 a person per night). I can’t imagine the school district near my former home doing anything so risky in terms of attracting sue-happy individuals and mobs of unruly jerks.

    Another issue is safety; e.g. can you walk in a park or swim in a public pool without being accosted or threatened? Can you ride your bike safely? Are there sidewalks?

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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