Armbinder’s “Beating Obesity” and half-hearted measures


Has everyone (with an interest in the subject) read Marc Ambinder’s “Beating Obesity” article in The Atlantic? He’s posted responses to some of the most common replies, but they’re only marginally interesting.

What is interesting to me, aside from the news that bariatric surgery often cures type 2 diabetes, sometimes immediately(!), is that the author acknowledges the tremendously difficult challenge the country faces, and basically admits that there are powerful cultural forces driving the rates of obesity of the last 30 years. (For the record, they’ve doubled.)

Armbinder himself was obese for a while, but a year ago, after trying and failing to lose weight in many different ways, he underwent bariatric surgery. To which I say: Damn. I’m older than him and over-weight myself, but would I take a one-half of one percent risk of dying on the operating table? Hell, no. I’d spend the thirty grand (with no insurance coverage) he paid on personal trainers (something I’m sure he did himself). It wouldn’t work, of course. It would never work. But five deaths out of a thousand? I hate those odds.

But the man had a problem. He tried to address it conventionally many times. It didn’t work. He went for the extreme solution. You can click on the link to see the change he’s had in a year.

Which is great for him! But the nation as a whole (and other developed nations as well) are facing their own intractible problem. Shame, tongue-clucking, “fitness initiatives” and the other half-measures don’t work. So what does he suggest? An extreme solution?

Well, no. Because he’s a political writer. He mentions the various solutions that advocates propose and talks about how they get in each other’s way. He looks at policy that can be implemented without too much fuss. He talks hopefully (barely hopefully) about Michelle Obama’s voluntary guidelines for agribusiness, about food labeling (which doesn’t work anyway), about subsidies for fruit and vegetables (since you’ll never be able to take away corn subsidies in this political environment), and zoning/public transportation changes (lemme know how that works out for you, I’ll be over here holding my breath).

But what we need is an end to food commercials aimed at kids. We need to stop subsidizing HFCS to the extent we currently do. We need to tax sugary drinks and monster portions at restaurants. And we can’t stop there.

As Ambinder says, all these solutions are additive. What’s more, even the “extreme” solutions I’m suggesting–solutions that would never make it through Congress or survive in the media–might not be extreme enough (“Free stomach stapling with every Wii Fit Plus!”). But can we see a way toward a solution, or is our political and cultural framework too timid? I’m afraid the answer looks to be “timid.”

Note: Whenever I (or anyone) talks about fat, people will inevitably comment about “self-indulgence,” “willpower,” “personal responsibility.” Don’t do that here. There’s a place for people to talk about the personal failings of fat people, and how those failing made them what they are. That place is called Everywhere, All The Time. For this post, I’m drawing a circle around the comment sections and asking people to take those discussions into their own spaces.

I’m off to the Museum of Flight with the fam today. Enjoy.