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August 26, 2011

Science (TM): Lefty Has Great Plan To Reduce Obesity-- Government-Imposed Hikes In Food Prices

Can't wait for the consensus.

Health experts blame passive overeating for global pandemic, warning in the Lancet that governments must tackle obesity now.

What's passive overeating?

Swinburn’s paper comes up with a clear primary culprit: a powerful global food industry “which is producing more processed, affordable, and effectively-marketed food than ever before.”

...

He said an “increased supply of cheap, palatable, energy-dense foods,” coupled with better distribution and marketing, had led to “passive overconsumption.”

...

“They [the government] have to look to how other epidemics, like road injuries and tobacco, have been handled and almost always it has been through taxes and regulation.”

There are two parts to this: The diagnosis, and the suggested cure.

Unlike David Thompson (who posts this on his blog), I do think the writer is right about "passive overeating" being the driving force behind obesity.

Let me explain.

How food is prepared has a great impact on people's weight. steve_in_hb relayed to me an experiment on the impact of cooking on diet, shown in a documentary.

A scientist got a group of young people and basically told them to eat everything they could. The catch? The food was raw. It was all apples and potatoes and such.

The young people dropped weight at a very high rate. They could not eat enough to maintain weight, even though they had plentiful food.

Now, for the second phase, he introduced the caveman-era technology of cooking by fire and boiling water. With the exact same foods, the group regained most of their lost weight and stabilized.

There are two reasons for this. First of all, cooking makes food taste better and hence permits you to eat more of it. If you consider eating a raw potato -- it's not a pleasant affair. You're not dying for more raw potato. But now chop up those potatoes and grill them over a fire, add some salt, and now... well, it tastes good. You want more.

But less well understood is that the body actually exerts energy to break down unprocessed food, so the net energy capture from eating food is always [the food's energy potential] minus [the energy spent by the body to capture that potential].

Cooking is actually a form of predigestion, breaking down difficult-to-process structures in food to make it easier for the body to digest, as part of the work has already been subcontracted out to the grill.

Point is, among the less-appreciated revolutions in human diet and physique is the rise of cooking as a technology. We all know how important agriculture and husbandry were, but but fewer realize how critical the simple act of cooking impacted human development.

Flash forward and humanity is making huge strides in agriculture. We have bred stunted, tiny, almost-just-berries not-so-sweet proto-apples to be the voluptuous sugar-loaded true apples we know today. And the same for corn and all the rest of our agricultural staples which did not exist for our poor caveman ancestors.

But our biology is still basically that old caveman biology. We sense we are sated when our stomachs are filled, as we always have; but now, when our stomachs are filled, they are probably packed with 2500 calories, whereas our cavemen ancestors' bellies would be stuffed to the rafters with, I don't know, 600 calories of net energy.

Anyway, point is, this is all almost certainly true. We are overeating and getting fat because our food is so rich and filled with nutrients and delicious carbohydrates (and fat, and protein) that by the time we feel sated, as our cavemen were, we haven't eaten a caveman meal, but the energy equivalent of four full days of caveman foraging.

Okay, I think he's right. I think actually most nutritionists and scientists think he's right.

But his proposed cure for that is to... dramatically raise the taxes on food in order to discourage people from eating?

Really?

He couldn't just write a blog post like I did?

I have said this before, and I am not just flattering commenters when I say this: A long time ago I did in fact accept the basic assumptions that liberals assumptions, unconsciously.

Lately I am having a re-think of things I've never thought about. Like a liberal, I just assumed them without having realized I was assuming anything much at all.

I'm actually learning some things here. I am learning to question.

The most important thing I'm focusing on lately is the Government must trust its own citizens if citizens are to trust the government.

And that means assuming not that citizens are children in need of government bullying and nagging and instruction and allowances and curfews, but assuming they are adults who can actually manage their own g-damn affairs.

Now, is everyone actually of stable, forward-thinking, impulse-controlling adult mentality? No. But that's life. You cannot strip rights and privileges, and the simple respect shown when you just let someone figure things out for themselves, from 90% of the public in order to help the 10% of the public that could afford a little paternalism.

This is part of the problem with liberalism, too. When liberals do things like this, they are really seeking to control people, benevolently in their minds, in order to achieve the paternalistic end of, they think, saving them from themselves.

But they have this idea that paternalism is a dirty word. And maybe it is. But there is nothing to be gained by refusing to call things by their proper names. And because they don't want the low-functioning members of society who might actually benefit from a little paternalism to feel the stigma of having paternalism shown to them, they make their paternalism universal, so everyone is equally condescended to.

I think this is what annoys conservatives about something I consider sort of unobjectionable -- that Michelle Obama, like other first ladies, has a goo-goo feel-good Positive Social Messaging campaign, and in her case, it's childhood obesity. I think conservatives chafe at being instructed by her as if they were children.

I actually still think that is off-base, for several reasons. 1, her nagging is not coercive, it is merely suggesting, and 2, there really are a lot of people who could use a little instruction about obesity. Not to get all racial here, but childhood obesity is especially pronounced in the black community, and guess which community actually looks up to Michelle Obama the most? The black community, of course.

So I do understand the "Oh just leave me alone and worry about your own damn life" impulse, but I don't really understand how a non-coercive nagging about eating healthy is some kind of improper (bordering on unconstitutional) interference with people's freedoms.

But the point I'm actually getting at is that, for a liberal, it is an unmitigated sin to say The poor and dysfunctional need our instruction, and here it is, especially for them, it becomes instead a general nagging of the entire population, and most of the population kind of knows they shouldn't eat too many Zingers and Ho-Hos and McDonald's apple pies.

The Victorians were pretty paternalistic -- but they called it by its actual name and didn't try to sound as if they were attempting to improve everyone. Victorian London actually had a fair number of apartment buildings set up by paternalistic minded people -- the apartments were cheap and clean and better than most poor folks could afford, but there were paternalistic rules imposed for living there. About gainful employment, health habits, interactions with the opposite sex and all the rest of it. It was in fact paternalistic; but let's face it, if you're subsidizing someone as if he is a child and you are his father, that is what paternalism is. Isn't it?

We seem to have gone wrong on this point, where we (as citizens not on the government dole, but contributing to it) step in act as surrogate fathers for people in need of that kind of paternalistic support, but then we recoil for calling a thing by its name, or from making up a set of Rules of Good Conduct and Specified Tasks for Receipt of Allowance Money, as fathers tend to do. Instead, it's just the subsidy part of paternalism, without nannying that traditionally went along with it.

And so we get more people in need of it. It's all upside.

So here's what I think: I think people are passively overeating. I think there is a disconnect between our biological signals for satiation, which stopped evolving 40,000 years ago, and our current food technology, which has evolved like gangbusters and continues doing so.

And I think the cure for this is telling people so.

And then trusting them to work it out for themselves.

And if they don't, they get fat, and they have elevated health risks.

And so what?

And so damn what. Not everyone is going to live to be 100, and only in a true tyranny could the government force people into the habits likely to get them to 100+ years of age.

Some people want to live longer and some people want to be thinner and some people want to indulge an appetite.

Let's trust people to work this out, huh? And if someone really, really likes food, and has decided, more or less, to trade a few years of his life for the pleasures of overeating, let's respect that decision, too.

People have the right to be wrong. I do not want to live in a Calvinist, paternalistic, endlessly moralizing religious tyranny. I do not wish to live under the classic version of that that liberals so fear, but I equally do not wish to live in the leftwing version of such a Puritan hell, in which I have a priesthood of bureaucrats forcing me to live my life as the Church of Healthy Living as decided in its third papal encyclical on Happy Meals.

Oh: And I guess my theory -- that if you're getting a subsidy, you have to endure a little paternalism -- is part of the driving force between the ever-increasing paternalism of the state.

After all, we're all cross-subsidizing each other now. The government is picking each of our pockets of $1000 to give $800 to someone else for whatever purpose (and giving us in return our own $200-$800 subsidy from someone else; but note few of us even get back a decent fraction of what we've paid out).

And since the country is now so heavily cross-subsidized, I guess the state thinks it's only good and just that we have more paternalism to accompany that.

But that's wrong.

That is not an argument for more paternalism.

That is a very strong argument for less subsidization.

But Michelle Obama Isn't Just Suggesting: Jewell writes:

Her "Let's Move" or whatever [...] it's called has yanked everything even remotely enjoyable to eat out of the schools. Replacing french fries with carrot sticks only causes the kid to not eat. Most of the "healthy lunches" are ending up in the trash can because the kids won't eat them. Some schools are even considering banning bringing your own damn lunch!

Okay, I didn't know that. A couple of points, though:

1. There is no federal law about this (at least as far as I know, and I know I don't know much). If I'm wrong, please correct me. Michelle Obama's nagging, then, is being taken up by school administrators (who I assume worship her); it's those people who ultimately have the actual power to do this sort of thing.

2. Making food kids won't actually eat is of course stupid.

That said, I don't know about you, but when I went to school, the lunch was a bounty of carbohydrates. And kids love the very things they shouldn't love (and adults learn to moderate).

But I don't know what you do about that-- that's what kids want to eat, and that's what they will eat, whether you offer them carrots or not.

C.S. Lewis: A commenter quotes him. Unlike the Chesterton's Fence quote, of course I've read this one dozens of times. But it's always worth a re-read.

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.



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posted by Ace at 02:12 PM

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