March 25, 2004

What if?

by Chris Feeney

Earlier this month the United States Health Departmentís Centers for Disease Control and Prevention brought the nationís obesity problem into the limelight.

The CDC released its report in early March indicating obesity is now the second leading cause of death in the United States behind smoking.

The report stated: ďIn 2000, the most common actual causes of death in the United States were tobacco (435,000), poor diet and physical inactivity (400,000), alcohol consumption (85,000), microbial agents (e.g., influenza and pneumonia, 75,000), toxic agents (e.g., pollutants and asbestos, 55,000), motor vehicle accidents (43,000), firearms (29,000), sexual behavior (20,000) and illicit use of drugs (17,000). Actual causes of death are defined as lifestyle and behavioral such as smoking and physical inactivity that contribute to this nationís leading killers including heart disease, cancer, and stroke.Ē

Thatís right, more than seven times as many people die each year because they are overweight than die in car accidents.

Needless to say, the CDC has started the ball rolling. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently indicated that 64 percent of Americans are overweight, with 30 percent of those actually being considered obese.

The FDA wants food producers to provide additional nutritional facts on items sold at stores. The same suggestion has been made for restaurant meals.

Iím just concerned that ultimately government may get even further involved. I wonder how long before there will be legislation introduced to ban junk food or to mandate what we can eat?

Is it that far a stretch? Government already has some control over our personal decisions. We can not legally ingest, inject, smoke or otherwise consume narcotics and other illicit drugs.

Donít get me wrong, Iím not saying we should take drugs. Itís just an example of how the government tells us what we can or cannot put into our own bodies.

It also offers a good comparison, because just as drugs can cause physical harm, so to can unhealthy foods. So if the government feels it needs to protect us from drugs, is it that hard to believe that they may ultimately feel the need to protect us from cheeseburgers and candy bars? Then instead of busting crack houses and marijuana patches the police will be performing raids on the all-you-can-eat buffets. Itís embarrassing enough to have your speeding ticket in the court news. Can you imagine getting ticketed for over eating, or for buying an illegal package of Oreos? Then there would be a black market for Twinkies and hot fudge sundaes.

It may never come to this. Look at tobacco, the leading cause of death. Government has stepped in to a degree. They do limit tobacco use to adults (18 and older to buy cigarettes). However the legal system has struck the biggest blow by awarding enormous settlements in civil suits against the tobacco industry.

If juries will penalize cigarette manufacturers billions of dollars because people ignored the warnings and made the choice to smoke, what do you think they will do for people ďstrickenĒ with obesity. Cigarettes at least warned users of the chances of cancer and other health problems. Potato chips and chocolate chip cookies have no signs on the package to tell you they may be fatal if used in excess.

I hope we donít get juries or legislators involved. Your diet is your business. I can tell you right now, if someone tries to make me eat rice cakes and steamed vegetables all the time, then they arenít going to have to worry about dying from obesity.

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