Who’s Fault?

Thanks to Don Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek for steering me to this excellent column by David Harsanyi of the Denver Post, Harsanyi: No Fat Kids! In it he discusses the methods used by politicians to change our lifestyles.

Michelle Obama — no doubt driven by the best of intentions — went on to take food manufacturers to task, asking them to “rethink the products” they produce because business, apparently, should be a clearinghouse for ethically sound groceries rather than a place that manufactures frozen pizza.

The first lady says there is a lack of “accessibility and affordability” as so many Americans reside in “nutritional wastelands” found in urban and rural areas (the latter, one gathers, filled with farms) with no access to supermarkets. “Some 23.5 million Americans — including 6.5 million children — currently live in food deserts,” claims the Let’s Move! site.

Harsayni counters effectively:

This fantasy quickly evaporates when one learns that the average American spends a mere 7 percent of his or her annual income on food (the lowest percentage in the world). That average person has an amazingly rich and diverse array of nutritious foods to [choose] from. In addition, it turns out that that there are very few “food deserts” in states that have the highest levels of obesity in the nation.

In Michelle’s mental model, obesity results from a broken system that spawns food deserts giving people little choice but to eat poorly and gain weight.

This isn’t that hard folks.

Obesity is caused by one thing: choices made my people to consume more calories than needed.  There are not many choices that are more personal than the choice of what we put in our mouths.

I see rampant obesity in the customers of five supermarkets that are near my work and home that I frequent.  None of these supermarkets have a shortage of nutritious foods.  They have plenty of fresh produce, lean meats, canned fruits and vegetables.

If these people have ‘access’ to nutritious food, why do you think they’re obese?  Personal choices.

4 thoughts on “Who’s Fault?

  1. While M. Obama’s theory of obesity is probably wrong, the “personal choice” theory is at best inadequate. Choices are not made in a vacuum, and the environment of choice does matter. One part of that environment is the dieting advice people are given. If it has been monumentally bad advice, then that could be an important factor. Gary Taubes argues that it has been, in his book Good Calories Bad Calories.

    There is also the more immediate environmental factor of the feeling of hunger. For example, it’s been widely reported that a caloric restriction diet can seriously prolong life. So why do so few normal-weight people successfully put themselves on a caloric restriction diet? Because it makes them feel hungry, and their hunger drives them to eat until they’ve consumed enough calories to no longer be on a caloric restriction diet. Technically you can call that a “choice”, since technically it’s possible to resist constant gnawing hunger. But the factor of hunger is present and so should be at least mentioned.

    What prevents normal-weight people from putting themselves on a caloric-restriction diet may be the same thing that prevents the obese from losing weight, i.e., the feeling of hunger. If somebody’s bodily signals are so out of whack that he doesn’t feel satisfied until he’s consumed enough calories to maintain his high weight, then the chance that he’s going to successfully resist the feeling of constant hunger is pretty slim. You can call that “choice” if you like, but if you do, you may well be ignoring an important factor.

    • Hi Constant – Great points. I agree bad knowledge and wrong mental models can result in bad eating choices. I have personal experience with this. I wrote about how the knowledge that enabled me to lose weight and keep it off for nine years now in a book and on another blog. Before that, my incorrect knowledge was contributing to my weight gain.

      I’ll give this information for free to anyone who wants it, but I get very few requests for it. In the end, there’s no magic. It’s about taking responsibility for what, how much and how often you eat, holding yourself accountable and being aware.

      I do think people know that eating junk and eating a lot isn’t good for them, but they choose to do it anyway. But, that’s their choice. I may not agree with it, but it’s a free country. I’m happy to help whomever I can.

      As for your low calorie diet, I believe you can eat low calorie diets without feeling hungry if you eat the right things and eat often enough.

      Regardless, though, if you ask people if they know they may be trading away a few years at the end of their lives with their eating habits, they’ll tell you they know and they think it’s worth it. Again, that may be a trade-off that perplexes you and I, but it’s their trade-off to make. If they get more value out of enjoying their eating than they do out of the thought of living longer, that’s their choice.

  2. Both Obama’s suffer from delusions of grandeur. They harbor under the delusion that they know how to “fix” the problems that have plagued mankind since ancient times. They suffer from the “Fatal Conceit.”

    • I agree. We live in an age when “the experts”, “the well-educated” and flawed and manipulated statistics that pass as “research” have been given too much credibility and too much power.

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