Minister's Attack on Fat an Obscene Proposition

Originally published in The Ottawa Citizen March 12, 2002

Federal Health Minister Anne McLellan mused recently about the obesity epidemic as if this was some new revelation.

As always, our political masters are the last to listen or see the obvious. The obesity epidemic began 20 years ago.

Despite reams of credible scientific research warning of the consequences of our North American diet, people act only when faced with a “crisis.” Instead of a balanced approach to prevent the original problem, we will now invariably hear from the I-know-what’s-best-for-you groups salivating at the chance to impose another restriction upon independent-thinking adults.

These do-gooders will rail against the food industry, advertisers and fast-food restaurant chains among others. They will claim these segments of our society are responsible for the obesity problem.

Fast-food restaurants will be vilified because they too are responsible for our children’s obesity. They succeed because people frequent them. They bring their children to fill up on their wares. The restaurant provides a service that the public demands. If that demand changes for better quality and nutritious food, the restaurants will respond to the public’s wishes if they wish to remain in business. Otherwise, they lose out to their competitor.

Buy fewer pizza pockets and the company will have to rethink whether it should continue to make more.

Buy more healthful food and the manufacturers will have follow your lead.

If you do not like the TV ads for chocolate frosted cherry bombs targeting your child, do not buy the product.

We are responsible for what happens to our children.

The local grocery store has aisles full of high fat, sugared foods that provide zero nutritional value. Yet take a look at the shopping carts brimming with chips, chocolates, sugared cereals, processed fried and breaded chicken and fish, decadent ice cream and nachos, just to name a few. Either the message is not being heard or it is not effective.

If we buy into the notion of corporations perpetrating these horrors on unsuspecting adults then get ready for the next stage of social engineering to curtail a person’s right to choose. In Canada it seems the chosen path of behaviour modification is to tax the daylights out of the undesired activity or ban it. We may be faced with a tax on fatty foods, fast-food restaurants and sugared drinks and sodas among others.

People, especially the obese because they are visible, will be shunned, maligned and ridiculed because of their “disgusting little habit.” Under the guise of carefully couched empathic words, the obese will be portrayed as helpless souls in need of big brother’s care and guidance since they seem incapable of controlling their urges or making the right decisions.

By fiat, it will be acceptable to discriminate against this group of fat feeders since they obviously have no respect for themselves or others.

Obesity in general and childhood obesity in particular will wane when we decide to change our habits. You cannot put a fat inspector into every home and establishment to monitor the food people consume.

Information is the key.

The consequences of poor dietary choices should be delivered in a non-judgmental manner. Harsh criticism of the errors of one’s ways will usually be met with an outright defensive posture sure to alienate the intended target population.

We love our children and strive to protect them. We want them to be happy. Treat your children to a bag of chips or a bowl of ice cream every one to two weeks. They will learn that these foods are treats and not dietary staples and respect them as such. If applied over the long-term, it might alter poor eating habits and choices.

Once we tax or ban certain fatty foods what could follow? What other facet of our lives will be adjusted for the common good?

People on diets may be offended, annoyed and emotionally traumatized when near those guzzling beer and eating nachos. They will say that they are unable to enjoy their meal because of these nefarious activities.

“Call the fat police. They’re interfering with my willpower to stay on my diet. The sight of all this fat laden food is making me ill! I want to eat in peace!”

Most people are prepared to deal with the consequences of their actions. We either respect the rights of adults to choose or cede control to the authorities. Punishing citizens for legal personal life decisions is fascist.

Think it can’t happen? Bet you a bucket of chicken it can. Just look at the smoking ban.

© Dr. Barry Dworkin 2002

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