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The other day, I responded to a comment on a conservative American website with regard to diet.

The context was in regard to the reform of Obamacare in the Trump administration. The initial comment referred to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s (R-Wisconsin) possible approval of a health auditor, a stranger, to visit someone’s house to assess a family’s lifestyle prior to their obtaining health insurance. Apparently, this is one health insurance idea that has been discussed before.

Ryan’s father died at an unexpectedly early age from heart disease. Consequently, Ryan focussed on diet and exercise to ensure he himself didn’t end up that way. It is thought that he also might well consider that a stranger going into someone’s home to assess their lifestyle — perhaps to check cupboards for snacks or alcohol and sniff walls for evidence of smoking — is entirely acceptable.

That is every bit as frightening as the Vault 7 Year Zero CIA document dump by WikiLeaks on March 7.

There are two things here.

The first is that, as a legislator, Paul Ryan will never have to be part of Obamacare or Trumpcare. He and his colleagues get a traditional health insurance plan.

The next thing is obesity, which Paul Ryan — a thin man — desperately opposes.

As I told the person on this particular conservative website, this notion of a healthcare audit is a plan for the ‘little people’. (They, in Ryan’s estimation, do not understand what their betters do. This, by the way, is Ryan’s ‘magnificent home’ in Janesville, Wisconsin. It has an extensive border fence around it.)

I further commented (same link):

To counter Ryan’s dictating to Americans on their health: my father also died of heart disease at an early age. So did his father, whom I never met. So have some of my friends in the present day. That doesn’t give the right to go around snooping in people’s homes as a precursor to getting health insurance!

Then, I discussed obesity:

Re obesity: severely limit or stop eating starch and sugar, eat more fat (including animal fat) and less protein. Watch the pounds roll off. It’s called the ketogenic diet, which is a permanent eating plan, not a fad diet. I’ve been on it for three years. I lost weight and stabilised. Cholesterol and triglycerides go down with keto.

As we know, there is a particular association between Americans and obesity. It is unclear whether this can be connected with the increase of obesity in other Western countries, because who knows how much corn syrup — rather than sugar — is in their food? Emphases mine below, not in the original comment:

Someone on here was talking about corn. It’s all the corn syrup used in place of sugar which also leads to obesity. Sugar makes you feel more sated than corn syrup. We owe the proliferation of corn syrup to the Nixon administration in the 1970s. Corn farmers, IIRC, had a glut of crop then, so were bailed out with companies producing corn syrup for commercial cake, cookie and candy manufacturers.

Note when obesity started to climb: the late 1970s to early 1980s. It was no big deal at the time. Most people attributed it to Americans giving up smoking. Although that was a factor, I would posit that the increase of sweet snacks and cakes made with corn syrup were a greater contributor — and continue to be today.

Yes, I know I should have said ‘was’ instead of ‘were’ in the last sentence, but only caught it now.

Regardless, that message got through. My sincere thanks to the moderators. I didn’t think anything of it until later. Now read on.

The commenter, with whom I was corresponding, replied:

Salty snacks like crackers and chips also contribute, along with soft drinks and the rest of our favorites (fast food, etc). Eat at home family meals with vegetables and salads have diminished with women working, divorces, unwed mothers with no Dad in the home, increase of addictions, etc.

I’m not in favor of a one-food group diet (animal fat/low carb) diet. Whole grains and vegetables/fruit contain important phytonutrients. Did you know heart attacks diminished in Britain, in WWII, despite the stress of the bombings, when sugar was rationed?

So, appreciating this reply, but differing because of my keto experience — and that of thousands of others — wrote back.

I retyped my reply twice. Both immediately went into spam. A subsequent message, on a different topic, went through, by the way.

The text below is similar to what was spammed. Once again, emphases mine below, not in the original comment. For the overweight:

All starch — whether salty or sweet, from carbohydrate to sugar — should be sharply curtailed or eliminated.

It should be noted that the ketogenic diet — a way of eating and not a fad diet — is not a one-food group diet. It works with a proportion (depending on the individual) of 50% fat, 35% protein and 15% carbohydrate per day. Vegetables should provide most of the 15% carbohydrate. The more you weigh, the more you lose.

Starch comprises bread, cereal, cakes, oatmeal, salty snacks (etc.). Sugars, including those in fruit, are also starches.

Corn syrup has replaced sugar in most sweet snacks. Corn syrup is less satisfying than pure sugar. Americans are eating more corn syrup in cakes, cookies and candies. Therefore, they are getting fatter because the corn syrup is less satisfying.

Eating more fat — including fat from cheese, eggs and dairy products, especially butter — will be more satisfying than eating starches or sugar.

I agree very much with your point on ready-made meals, however, another problem is that Americans — along with many other Westerners — eat five times a day.

I take your point that, during the Second World War, Britons got their nutrients from whole grain bread. However, they needed all the sustenance they could receive. They also had no central heating. They had to walk or ride bicycles to and from work. Rationing in the UK did not end until 1954.

Westerners live an entirely different lifestyle in the 21st century. They eat too many carbohydrates, including sugars — especially corn syrup products, which leave them less full than sugar would. They have heated homes and offices. They drive nearly everywhere.

Low fat foods are another problem. For a decent flavour profile, low fat needs to be offset with high sugar content, most often corn syrup.

My message must have had wording or syntax that instantly caused it to end up in spam — twice.

There is a political point about corn syrup that I want to make concerning the law of unintended consequences. No one could foresee in the Nixon administration that corn syrup would result in a national weight problem.

I know from experience. In the early 1960s, when I was five years old, I was a guest of a young friend at her house for Saturday dinner — pancake night. My mother always bought maple-flavoured syrup made with sugar. This family always bought corn syrup. I still remember eating a plateful of pancakes with syrup and feeling hungry before I went to bed that night. The hosts even told my parents that I had an incredible appetite for such a little tyke. Yet, that was the only time I was ever hungry after eating twice as many pancakes as I would have done at home. The only difference was the type of syrup.

Conclusion

If Americans were still eating sweets of any kind made with sugar, they would be of normal weight.

Corn syrup is making people fat. So are other starches. Anyone who wants to lose weight should try a low-carb high-fat — LCHF — eating plan.

For more information on the ketogenic diet, please read the following. If you are in any doubt or under regular care of a physician, seek medical advice first:

Does low animal fat intake increase hostility or depression? (a hypothesis)

Fat and a balanced mind (low-fat diets can imbalance serotonin and nerves)

Depression and anxiety: the perils of a low-fat, high-carb diet

High carbohydrate intake and depression

Depression and cancer: more evidence against a low-fat diet

High carbohydrate intake and depression (also epilepsy related [Dr Richard A Kunin’s paper])

High-carb, low-fat diets might cause Western diseases (cancer related)

Low-carb diet a migraine remedy

Low-carb, high-fat diets regulate testosterone, cholesterol levels

Ketogenic diet and gout risk — tips for success

Resources for the ketogenic diet

Low carb high fat diet primer

Dietary advice: the old ways are the best (my own story on the ketogenic diet)

High carb, low fat diets bad for brain health — and moods? (more testimonials for the ketogenic diet)

Whilst I cannot guarantee that my original correspondent on the conservative website will see this, I hope that others might find this of interest.

My thanks to reader Underground Pewster who recently sent in an article about alcohol and food consumption.

(Photo credit: Lesley Voth’s Simply Fantastic)

Underground Pewster introduced ‘Alcohol triggers brain’s response to food aromas, increases caloric intake in women’ as follows:

We all know that a good glass of wine complements the meal, scientists are tracking down the brain pathways involved.

Although the alcohol was delivered intravenously rather than orally, the female participants in the Indiana University School of Medicine group ate more at lunch afterward than the ladies who had been given a saline-only IV infusion.

Restaurauteurs will be happy Dr David A. Kareken’s researchers concluded that (emphases mine):

food intake increased after the IV infusion of alcohol compared with a saline-only infusion (P = .04). In addition, functional MRI imaging showed a significantly increased left hypothalamic response to food aromas after an alcohol infusion in participants. Levels of the gut hormone ghrelin also were reduced after alcohol infusion.

… alcohol affected ghrelin in a fashion similar to ingested alcohol.

Some of the next steps in humans would be to understand how alcohol affects hypothalamic communication with other cortical and subcortical brain reward areas,” Kareken said. “Whereas animal models may be better suited to understand the precise dynamics of how alcohol affects signaling within hypothalamic networks.”

Ghrelin is a peptide hormone. It was discovered in 1996 and first reported on in 1999.

Researchers have found that ghrelin is lower in obese people. You and Your Hormones explains:

Eating reduces concentrations of ghrelin. Different nutrients slow down ghrelin release to varying degrees; carbohydrates and proteins restrict the production and release of ghrelin to a greater extent than fats.

Somatostatin also restricts ghrelin release, as well as many other hormones released from the digestive tract.

It seems that if one wants to increase ghrelin production and release to lose weight, the ketogenic diet might work well. It is high in fat, very low in carbohydrate and moderate in protein. Most Westerners gorge on carb and protein whilst reducing fat, which leads to more frequent meals and an inefficient use of insulin. Hence our high rates of obesity and diabetes.

As far as alcohol is concerned, it was only in 2012 that the first results were released on the effect of strong drink on humans. These confirm what people have known for millennia: drink hits a sweet spot in the brain. From the Daily Mail:

Previously scientists had deduced from animal studies that the pleasurable effects of alcohol come from the release of endorphins in the brain.

But new research used scanning technology to ‘light up’ the brain regions of drinkers, showing where it has the biggest impact.

A study from the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Centre at the University of California marks the first time that endorphin release in two regions of the brain, the nucleus accumbens and orbitofrontal cortex, in response to drinking alcohol has been directly observed in humans.

Ernest Gallo Clinic — marvellous!

The researchers said that this pleasurable effect on the brain can cause certain people to overdo it. They add that too much drink not only makes one inebriated, it can lead to anxiety and depression. They conclude:

If we better understand how endorphins control drinking, we will have a better chance of creating more targeted therapies for substance addiction.

Bottom line: drinking in moderation releases feel-good chemicals in the brain. Excess consumption stops the release of these substances.

Eat, drink and be merry — then put down the bottle.

By no means am I making out carbs to be the bad guys of Western diets.

However, it seems we lost the balance sometime in the 1980s.

I’m aware that new food groupings appeared in the US over a year ago. I’m still back with the four from the 1970s, when the nuns told us that pizza was a good dinner to have if you lacked time to make something more substantial. A pizza has carbs, meat, dairy and veg. What’s not to like?

A decade later, we began falling in love with carbs for the reasons stated in the aforementioned post.

A 2011 article in Policy Mic describes how our bodies process carbohydrates. Cameron English, a science writer and editor, explained in ‘How The Government Has Caused America’s Obesity Problem’. Here he writes of the older food grouping which predated the new Obama-era one.

That said, this older standard still informs much of our carbohydrate fixation in the West, not just the US (emphases mine):

The problem is that these recommendations promote a low-fat, calorie-restricted diet based on grains like bread and rice. These kinds of foods consist almost entirely of carbohydrates. When you digest carbohydrates, they are converted into sugar in your bloodstream, the same sugar found in ice cream, soda, potato chips, and all the other junk foods most people would recognize as unhealthy. Since high blood sugar is toxic, your body produces a hormone called insulin to bring it down to a reasonable level. The trouble with this, however, is that insulin brings down your blood sugar by converting it to fat and sending it into your fat cells to be stored. There are many problems with this process.

When people eat a high-carbohydrate diet like this, not only do they unintentionally avoid the fats and proteins their bodies need to properly function, but they “starve at the cellular level,” as Dr. Michael Eades puts it, because what they are eating is stored as fat and doesn’t provide the energy they need. The result over time is a steady increase in body weight. And as health writer and documentary film maker Tom Naughton explains, it shouldn’t be surprising that “… the rise in obesity began around the same time the so-called experts began telling everyone to cut back on fat and eat more carbohydrates.”

We also stopped smoking at that time, too.

Anyway:

Human evolution offers some interesting insights as well. While many experts today express skepticism when writers like Eades or Naughton suggest that low-carbohydrate diets can improve our health, those are the sorts of diets humans have maintained for most of our existence. And like the increase in obesity, rates of heart disease didn’t shoot up until the push in the middle of the 20th century to remove saturated fat from our diets; the reason being that humans have not evolved to thrive on grains.

Some cultures in Africa and South America do have a carb-heavy diet from native tubers or grains. However, most of those people — including women — are working their land or someone else’s most of the day. They also lack Western-style homes with modern conveniences. Therefore, although some health experts trumpet their example as one for us to follow, these Africans and South Americans are akin to high-performance athletes who have problems taking in adequate calories on a daily basis.

As for us, Cameron English adds that a Western reliance on carbs is actually making us sluggish — and hungry:

Overeating, little exercise, and poor parenting certainly have a role in all this, but in light of the above information, that role is not as significant as we have been told. People over-eat not because they lack self control, but because they’ve been told to eat a diet that promotes hunger. Similarly, the unwillingness of most Americans to exercise is not just due to laziness. One of the results of the cellular starvation described above is a massive decrease in energy levels. Parents certainly don’t always feed their children healthy foods, but even when they feed them expert-approved diets, they are still giving their children foods that will eventually make them fat.

This is undoubtedly a controversial hypothesis, but that need not bother anybody because it is well-supported by the available evidence. study published in 2007 looking at three different diets found that the low-carbohydrate diet tested led to twice as much weight loss and resulted in a greater reduction of risk factors for heart disease compared to the other diets. Another study found that low-carbohydrate diets are as effective as low-fat diets in helping people lose weight. Science writer Gary Taubes argues that the reason these oft-derided diets – Atkins, for example – work so well is because they address the root of the problem; they take into account the nutritional quality of what people eat, which ends of up reducing the quantity of calories they eat.

One possible solution for those of us watching our weight is to try reducing carbs to one-third or one-quarter of our daily dietary intake. This is not intended as health advice and everyone is different. However, we have tried it at home since our holiday in Cannes with a good degree of success.

Having either bread or a starch with dinner — or a small combination of both — and eliminating  carbohydrate-based desserts except as occasional treats may help to melt the pounds off before the holidays.

I’ll also follow up with a nutritious low-calorie (and very inexpensive) meat dish in a couple weeks’ time which is every bit as tasty and satisfying as stir-fried steak.

When SpouseMouse and I were in Cannes over the summer, we made a concerted effort to watch how the French handle carbohydrate consumption.

How is it that the French eat a lot of bread but are still thin by comparison with other Westerners?

Most of us in the West have been increasing carbohydrate consumption over the past 30 years. The ubiquitous offerings of Italian food and the promotion of the athlete’s diet of pasta are principal contributing factors.

As I have mentioned before, athletes need a high-carb diet; it’s a struggle for them to replace burnt caloric energy.

However, most of us do not have this problem. In fact, quite the opposite.

Italians eat a lot of bread and pasta, but, generally, it’s one or the other, not an excess of both. I have read where Italian women either eat pasta or bread in a single meal. Those who load up on both bread and pasta at dinner weigh more.

When we went out to eat in Cannes, we were served a basket of bread everywhere. However, when we received our various dinners — even the multi-course menu dégs — it was rare for them to be accompanied by a starch. The only time we were served chips was when we ate steak tartare; the fries are the standard (and best) accompaniment.

We ate only three other dishes accompanied by potatoes or a grain: a small quenelle of mash with guinea fowl, a spoonful of quinoa with a plaice starter and rice with gambas (jumbo prawns).

Everything else came only with a vegetable assortment or salad.

Bottom line — most of us do not need to take in as many carbs or combinations thereof. We can also afford to leave out many of the pastries we snack on during the day.

Yesterday’s post posited that government campaigns to combat obesity are using the same strategies that Tobacco Control groups have used against smoking.

In January 2013, an American bioethicist Daniel Callahan, also president emeritus of the Hastings Center, published a paper advocating shaming the obese into losing weight.

The underlying factors of obesity are many. Some obese people use food to self-medicate as a palliative against long-standing low-level anxiety. Others have been on statins or an anti-depressant which causes them to gain and retain weight indefinitely. No amount of exercise or dieting will fix that problem unless there is a change in or discontinuation of prescription medication.

Nonetheless, Callahan — who should know better, given his background — persists with his shaming idea, no doubt, to him, a kindly nudge.

The Today show (NBC) site summarised the content of his paper:

Unhappy with the slow pace of public health efforts to curb America’s stubborn obesity epidemic, a prominent bioethicist is proposing a new push for what he says is an “edgier strategy” to promote weight loss: ginning up social stigma.

Daniel Callahan, a senior research scholar and president emeritus of The Hastings Center, put out a new paper this week calling for a renewed emphasis on social pressure against heavy people — what some may call fat-shaming — including public posters that would pose questions like this:

“If you are overweight or obese, are you pleased with the way that you look?”

According to Callahan, public health campaigns (emphasis mine below):

could do with a dose of shame if there’s any hope of repairing a nation where more than a third of adults and 17 percent of kids are obese …

Callahan, a former smoker, argued that public shunning of those who lit up led to plunging rates of cigarette use. People were asked to smoke outside and told directly or indirectly that their “nasty” habit was socially unacceptable ...

“Can there be social pressure that does not lead to outright discrimination – a kind of stigmatization lite?” he wrote.

Fortunately, opposition was quick in coming:

“For him to argue that we need more stigma, I don’t know what world he’s living in,” said Deb Burgard, a California psychologist specializing in eating disorders and a member of the advisory board for the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance …

That view is shared by Dr. Tom Inge, an expert in childhood obesity at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

“No amount of teasing, probing questions about what they wish they could do, or medications seem to help,” Inge said. “So if one is proposing to help them by more stigmatization, that would seem at once both antithetical and unethical.”

Anti-obesity campaigners are following the Tobacco Control plan. Furthermore, some healthcare employers are already refusing to take on new hires who have a weight problem.

Read more:

1/ Companies not hiring obese applicants — is this discrimination?

Ted Bear (08-26-2013, 11:59 AM):

Is it discrimination? Probably.

But it also disgusting having an obese person waddling around the work place. It presents a poor image, demonstrates little to no self control, is an example of reverse discrimination when the ‘healthy’ employees have to make up for the obese person’s limitations, and is an example of poor health in action. If there is customer interaction involved, it is also unfair to make a customer sit and interact with someone who has rolls of fat dripping from their frame.

It costs the employer in many ways to have fat people in their employ, and as such, they can probably make a legal decision not to employ them.

2/ Texas hospital bans obese workers?

Citizens Medical Center, located in Victoria, requires its employees “fit with a representational image or specific mental projection of the job of a healthcare professional,” including having an appearance “free from distraction” for patients, according to the Texas Tribune newspaper.

Potential employees must have a BMI of less than 35 (185 lbs for someone who is 5-1; or 265 lbs for someone who is 6-1), according to the newspaper.

But is this legal? In Texas and most states, yes.

3/ How being overweight can hurt your career

“We are living in such a politically correct society where we are deluding ourselves into believing overweight people are not discriminated against,” says Steve Siebold, a consultant to Fortune 500 companies and author of Die Fat or Get Tough: 101 Differences in Thinking Between Fat People and Fit People. “Many employers look at obese candidates and immediately think, ‘this person failed in controlling their own health, how are they going to run a division,'” he says …

In addition to being perceived as ineffectual, Siebold says employers are also concerned that obese people will be sick more often, which will result in lost productivity and higher healthcare costs.

Tobacco Control were not wrong in saying that their narrative could be applied to any health or social problem.

We have seen it with alcohol and, similarly, with obesity. People often smoke — or eat in excess — for the same reasons, many of them revolving around an inner anxiety (e.g. long-term family or work issue, death of a loved one). Of course, these activities also bring a good degree of temporary respite. I know of one man who stopped smoking the year his three children reached majority age and left home to pursue their own lives. He told me, ‘I just don’t need to smoke anymore.’

The Spectator (UK) has an article about obesity with regard to the local general practitioner’s surgery (office). Unfortunately, I have read all my allotted free-of-charge articles from the magazine for the rest of the month. If you’ve read ‘Obesity is not a disease. Pretending otherwise will stoke an epidemic and crush the NHS’, please feel free to comment below.

I read through the comments, and the Tobacco Control strategy stands out loud and clear:

– If you’re fat, you brought it on yourself. (No empathy.)

– If you’re fat, pay for your own illness. (British taxpayers automatically pay into the NHS, so this is hard to justify.)

– If you’re fat, you deserve to be bullied and ridiculed. (Just like smokers, then.)

Reader kalamere pointed to more pressing health issues — among them:

Why don’t doctors tell people to stop promiscuous risky sexual behavior?

I can’t remember when I last saw an advert or campaign against sexually-transmitted diseases.

As for the ‘pay for it yourself’ attitude so rampant today and in the comments on this Spectator article, reader Biochem Femme said (emphases mine):

… Ok, I agree with you that people take the NHS for granted and that the system is flawed, but where do you draw the line? For instance, what do you consider ‘dangerous sports’? Things like skydiving, wind surfing, soloing, climbing..? Because those sports generate a HELL of a lot fewer injuries than football, rugby, tennis etc (think of all the sprained ankles, dodgy knees, torn ligaments, broken bones, tennis elbow then the resulting x-rays, physio and so on). How about people injured in car accidents? Well you shouldn’t have been driving, of course! How about people who pick up STIs? Would you just leave them to fester because it’s their fault they had sex? What about someone who develops a melanoma because they were sunbathing for too long? Would you let them develop cancer because of their irresponsible attitude toward UV radiation? If you stop treating things for which people are ‘liable’ then you’ll have cut out the majority of all medical cases.

I would definitely like to see a greater level of respect for the NHS by the citizens of the UK, but simply saying ‘it’s your fault, you pay for it’ is a very unrealistic attitude.

One doctor complained about ‘NON-COMPLIANT’ (sic) patients. An interesting expression. Colonel Mustard replied:

Your real name isn’t Josef Mengele by any chance? Doctors used to tend and advise not judge and condemn. Like many other public “servants” they appear to have succumbed to the delusion that their role is to control people.

Going back to my remark above about underlying anxiety, jkendi offers a similar observation:

Doctors don’t ask their patients if they are self-medicating with food because if they say yes, the doctor doesn’t really have any tools to handle that. Worse, the current science in mental health is woefully behind other medical areas so if they refer the patient to a psychologist, not much will happen there either. It’s a damn shame. I can’t in good conscience berate fat people any more than others who medicate in other ways to escape depression. To do that is simply kicking people when they’re already down. Kids, yes, that is more complicated because not only do they see examples of poor nutrition and watch stupid commercials about French fries, there’s TV and video games that kill their natural inclination to play. But at the same time they probably have inherited tendencies from their parents that play into it. The obesity epidemic is a product of many things, not one thing, and certainly not weakness and sloth. I have friends who have stayed on diets, starving so long that it’s hard for me to comprehend how they do it. I couldn’t live on 900 calories a day for months–I don’t have that kind of willpower. But sadly, after all that work and deprivation they often gain the weight back because the real problems have not been solved. I would just say get a heart and press for solutions.

One of the commenters on the Spectator thread has worked really hard to lose weight and wrote that, when he does, no one notices. He is still subject to ridicule. And more abuse followed from those responding to him online. Poor man.

As for the causes, a few stood out. One of them being the increased consumption of refined sugar. But a more important one is the increased amount of carbohydrates we consume at the expense of meat protein and animal fat.

Think of the increase in the popularity of carbohydrates over the past four decades. We eat much more pasta and bread. Chips — French fries — are often de rigueur when dining out. In some cultures — and I worked with an obese man who exemplified this — a second heaping helping of rice with sauce is part of the daily dinner ritual. Pastries and doughnuts are everywhere and consumed regularly, instead of occasionally.

Meat protein and animal fat are seen as bad for a reason which goes back to the 1950s — a root cause posited by one doctor which is every much a Big Lie as is the ‘danger’ from second-hand smoke.

Our bodies process carbohydrates differently to proteins:

Excess carbs will get converted into fat and stored by adipose cells (it’s actually quite an efficient process). If you were to carefully examine all the things you eat, count calories etc, you’ll probably be surprised to find that it’s actually the carbs that’re in excess rather than fat.

A diet high in carbohydrates is perfect for an athlete who burns off more calories than he takes in. However, for the rest of us, a regime higher in protein might well be more suitable.

Eating as one’s grandparents did will lead to a leaner body, at least one wherein weight is more easily controlled. However, this relies on home-cooked meals from scratch using real rather than synthetic products. Sautéeing in butter or shallow-frying in lard will produce a much more satisfying feeling in the stomach than if margarine or vegetable fat is used. Because of this, we become happy with average rather than large helpings with no urge to snack in between meals — another no-no only 50 years ago.

Whatever — let’s remember to treat the obese kindly. In most cases, they, too, pay taxes and insurance premiums. Many are also doing their best to lose weight.

On Tuesday, July 24, 2012, New York City’s Department of Mental Health and Hygiene will hold a public hearing about Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed ban on sugary beverages in containers larger than 16 ounces.

As Reason points out, this involves not only full-calorie sodas but even iced tea sweetened with honey.

A poll taken on June 4 shows that most people are opposed to yet another Bloomberg ban (emphases mine):

Rasmussen found 65 of Americans oppose a law that would ban the sale of any cup or bottle of sweetened drink larger than 16 ounces; 24 percent favor such a law. When asked about the constitutional authority to enact such a law, 9 percent think Bloomberg does have the authority to prevent people from buying sugary drinks, while 85 percent disagree. Virtually all major demographic groups Rasmussen identified oppose the sugary-drinks ban in equal proportion.

The widest divergence comes in the political identification of those polled, giving more evidence to my hypothesis that leftists like bans:

Forty-one percent of Democrats favor a ban and 45 percent oppose, in contrast 11 percent of Republicans favor and 80 percent oppose.

You can read a list of the questions here. They are straightforward.

Baylen Linnekin, writing for Reason, reviews the ban and reminds us of previous Bloomberg interventions:

I’ll be speaking in opposition to the ban at the hearing—on behalf of the members and supporters of the nonprofit I lead, Keep Food Legal—for two main reasons. First, the ban would restrict food freedom of choice. In this way it’s no different than several other New York City food-related bans dreamt up by Mayor Bloomberg’s administration that I noted in an earlier Reason column on the soda ban. A partial list of these bans includes a proposal to restrict new tavern licenses, a suggested ban on happy hours, a ban on food donations to homeless shelters, an attempt to limit restaurants’ use of salt, and a trans fat ban.

As with Tobacco Control efforts over the past few decades, Linnekin notes that the Food Control science is spurious:

The second reason the ban is a bad idea is that it rests on bad assumptions. It’s this latter argument that particularly interests me here.

For one, the justification for the proposed rule appears to rest largely on a claim that Americans are obese because we “consume 200-300 more calories daily than 30 years ago, with the largest single increase due to sugary drinks.” But nothing in the one citation on which that claim is based, a 2005 article in the Annual Review of Public Health, directly supports this bold claim.

Rather, the authors of that study looked at the results of five earlier studies that showed “caloric intake rose by roughly 12% (300 calories per day) between 1985 and 2000, mainly because of increased consumption of grains, added fats, and added sugars.”

The closest the researchers get to validating the basis of the New York City health department’s proposed rule is when they note an “increased consumption of carbohydrates” in the form of “fruit and soft drinks, [which] are also responsible for a surprising number of calories.” But the authors then immediately cite other research that pegs “increased snacking” (with no mention of soda) as the main factor behind increased caloric intake. What’s more, the ARPH authors conclude that neither soda nor sugar nor carbohydrates but “technology may be primarily responsible for the obesity epidemic” …

“From 1999 to 2010, full-calorie soda sales declined 12.5% while obesity rates went up,” notes New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, a group that opposes the ban. “According to the CDC, added sugars consumed from sugar sweetened beverages are down 39% thanks in part to more low- and zero-calorie choices.”

Just as galling as spurious conclusions, however, are the sanctimonious comments from our notional betters in the matter of health and the proposed large soda ban.

Note the similarity to reasoning and rhetoric which has been used over the years against tobacco and civil liberties:

Rowan University Prof. Lawrence Weisberg, MD: ‘The trivial issues of personal freedom in this case pale before the public health and welfare exigency.’

Spike Lee, filmmaker: ‘I’m in favor of [the soda ban] … Children today in public schools across the country are not being taught art, are not being taught music and they have no physical ed. Obesity is a major, major problem in this country. Americans-we’re just obese. It’s crazy.’

Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation: ‘Soda isn’t food.  It has no nutritional value.  And soda consumption has been strongly linked to obesity and diabetes.  New York City has every right to reduce the harm and the health care costs being imposed by irresponsible corporate behavior.  The mayor’s proposal won’t prevent anyone from buying sugary drinks.’

Jamie Oliver, English chef and restaurateur: ‘We hear a lot about how we shouldn’t be ‘nannying’ people with laws about how they live their lives, but with such a massive problem as the obesity epidemic to deal with, we are way past the point where can trust people to make better choices. We have to help them make better choices. Good for Mayor Mike for putting the health of his city’s people first and holding firm against the expected pressure from the food and soda industries.’

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn: ‘We have an obesity epidemic in this country and need bold and innovative actions to address this crisis.’

Dodi Meyer, MD, Columbia University Medical Center: ‘I have seen firsthand the effects that obesity has had on NYC’s children … My patients are suffering now from breathing problems during sleep time, some have joint diseases and other are suffering from severe psychiatric issues due to the stigmatization that goes on in school settings. We as a society are responsible to offer children the best future that they can possibly have. It is the first time in history that the next generation is in danger of having a lower life expectancy that the previous one because of the health effects of the current obesity epidemic. Curtailing the sale of supersize sugary drinks can have a huge impact on the health of our children and therefore allow them to live to their maximum potential.’

There are plenty more quotes at the site. They really are right out of the smoking ban playbook.

Those selfish obese!

How could they be so greedy and heartless as to threaten global food security?

It must be true. Scientists said so.

On June 18, 2012, the Irish Times featured an article in their ‘breaking news’ (!) section, ‘Obesity threatens world food security’ (emphases mine):

Increasing population fatness could have the same implications for world food energy demands as an extra one billion people, researchers claimed after examining the average weight of adults across the globe.

Scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) said tackling population weight is crucial for food security and ecological sustainability.

The UN predicts that by 2050 there could be a further 2.3 billion people on the planet and that the ecological implications of the rising population numbers will be exacerbated by increases in average body mass, researchers said.

However, not everyone is obese nor is everyone likely to be obese. Note the words ‘there could be’ followed by ‘will be’.

The words ‘population fatness’ sounds semi-literate, too.  Will this turn into a new buzzword featuring in headlines about obesity? ‘America’s population fatness breaks all records’.

An Irish blogger, Grandad, at Smoking Out The Truth, had this to say:

It has been mentioned in the past that I have a habit of using the words “study” and “scientists” within quotes, and the reason I gave was that I have nothing but contempt for these blatant attempts at propaganda.  I had only read the first few lines of this latest garbage before I started tripping up on the loopholes in their arguments.

The most glaring error is in their comparison of Asian, American and European average weights.  Have they never noticed that there are genetic differences within the Human Race?  Has it not occurred to them that Orientals tend to be shorter and lighter than Caucasians?  Their basic argument is that cattle will go short of food because elephants are eating too much.

So is this the Holy Grail for which they have been seeking?  Is this argument sufficient to denormalise the overweight?  Is this Second-Hand Obesity?

I think they’ll have to do better than that.

Negative reactions to this story — mine included — are not too different from the ones voiced against anti-smoking articles 30 years ago. Most people found the propaganda over the top. Then, gradually, as prohibitionists repeated their message ad nauseam, it began to sink in. Today, no one wants to be around smokers except other smokers.

The same thing could happen with the obese, who find comfort in food. A reasonable person won’t mind: to each his own. However, propaganda has a way of turning reasonable people into authoritarian bullies, even at a young age.

Think of the bus monitor in upper New York State. What did the children taunt her about? Her weight. 

It would be disappointing if we were to witness torment of the obese and their denormalisation. Denormalisation — depersonalisation — of any kind is inhumane.

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