Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Plan for Curing Obesity among Crony Capitalists

Daniel Lieberman,  a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard, has a totally off the wall op-ed piece in NYT. He writes:
OF all the indignant responses to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plan to ban the sale of giant servings of soft drinks in New York City, libertarian objections seem the most worthy of serious attention. People have certain rights, this argument goes, including the right to drink lots of soda, to eat junk food, to gain weight and to avoid exercise. If Mr. Bloomberg can ban the sale of sugar-laden soda of more than 16 ounces, will he next ban triple scoops of ice cream and large portions of French fries and limit sales of Big Macs to one per order? Why not ban obesity itself?
This is true, but then Lieberman goes on:
The obesity epidemic has many dimensions, but at heart it’s a biological problem. An evolutionary perspective helps explain why two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese, and what to do about it. Lessons from evolutionary biology support the mayor’s plan: when it comes to limiting sugar in our food, some kinds of coercive action are not only necessary but also consistent with how we used to live.
Obesity’s fundamental cause is long-term energy imbalance — ingesting more calories than you spend over weeks, months and years. Of the many contributors to energy imbalance today, plentiful sugar may be the worst. 
Since sugar is a basic form of energy in food, a sweet tooth was adaptive in ancient times, when food was limited. However, excessive sugar in the bloodstream is toxic, so our bodies also evolved to rapidly convert digested sugar in the bloodstream into fat. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors needed plenty of fat — more than other primates — to be active during periods of food scarcity and still pay for large, expensive brains and costly reproductive strategies (hunter-gatherer mothers could pump out babies twice as fast as their chimpanzee cousins).
Simply put, humans evolved to crave sugar, store it and then use it. For millions of years, our cravings and digestive systems were exquisitely balanced because sugar was rare. Apart from honey, most of the foods our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate were no sweeter than a carrot. The invention of farming made starchy foods more abundant, but it wasn’t until very recently that technology made pure sugar bountiful.
The food industry has made a fortune because we retain Stone Age bodies that crave sugar but live in a Space Age world in which sugar is cheap and plentiful. Sip by sip and nibble by nibble, more of us gain weight because we can’t control normal, deeply rooted urges for a valuable, tasty and once limited resource.
This all may (or may not) be true, but so what?  How does this have anything to do with banning consenting private exchange and individual choice? Lieberman says this:
What should we do? One option is to do nothing, while hoping that scientists find better cures for obesity-related diseases like heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. I’m not holding my breath for such cures, and the costs of inaction, already staggering, would continue to mushroom.
The question here should be, "cost to who?" Clearly, Lieberman is thinking some kind of centrally planned healthcare society. Eliminate, the centrally planned cost-sharing health plans, then the cost of obesity falls on the obese. They get to determine if they want to pay the health and monetary costs of being obese and no one else. In other words, what's the problem?

But Lieberman wants to go down the central-planning road to a very scary degree. He concludes:

The final option is to collectively restore our diets to a more natural state through regulations. Until recently, all humans had no choice but to eat a healthy diet with modest portions of food that were low in sugar, saturated fat and salt, but high in fiber. They also had no choice but to walk and sometimes run an average of 5 to 10 miles a day. Mr. Bloomberg’s paternalistic plan is not an aberrant form of coercion but a very small step toward restoring a natural part of our environment. 
Though his big-soda ban would apply to all New Yorkers, I think we should focus paternalistic laws on children. Youngsters can’t make rational, informed decisions about their bodies, and our society agrees that parents don’t have the right to make disastrous decisions on their behalf. Accordingly, we require parents to enroll their children in school, have them immunized and make them wear seat belts. We require physical education in school, and we don’t let children buy alcohol or cigarettes. If these are acceptable forms of coercion, how is restricting unhealthy doses of sugary drinks that slowly contribute to disease any different?
Along these lines, we should ban all unhealthy food in school — soda, pizza, French fries — and insist that schools provide adequate daily physical education, which many fail to do.
Adults need help, too, and we should do more to regulate companies that exploit our deeply rooted appetites for sugar and other unhealthy foods. The mayor was right to ban trans fats, but we should also make the food industry honest about portion sizes. Like cigarettes, mass-marketed junk food should come with prominent health warning labels. It should be illegal to advertise highly fattening food as “fat free.” People have the right to be unhealthy, but we should make that choice more onerous and expensive by imposing taxes on soda and junk food.
We humans did not evolve to eat healthily and go to the gym; until recently, we didn’t have to make such choices. But we did evolve to cooperate to help one another survive and thrive. Circumstances have changed, but we still need one another’s help as much as we ever did. For this reason, we need government on our side, not on the side of those who wish to make money by stoking our cravings and profiting from them. We have evolved to need coercion.
Notice that although Lieberman mentions the libertarian objections, he never deals with them. He simply wants to play God (especially with school children). He may, or may not, be correct about pizza being good for us, but these "collective" moves against certain foods is scary.

John "I'm an anthropologist, and I study the bones and genes of ancient humans" Hawks has responded to this outrage:
Notice: It's the state that's coercing children to be in school all day, where they are denied access to healthy food and physical activity! In this coercive environment, the federal government provides two free unhealthy meals a day for poor children. Seriously: If you want to bring an evolutionary perspective to bear on this question, look at the effects of eight hours of daily sedentism with an average 1200 kcal/day on a free school breakfast and lunch --not even counting after-school snacks and supper. The state is using its enormous coercive power to force children to become fat. 
Despite this record, now Lieberman and others want to bring on some more coercion...
I'll believe in restoring our ancestral environment when politicians begin to walk 5 to 10 miles a day to forage for their high-fiber meals. As it is, all they do is dish up high-fiber verbiage for the rest of us. 
My opinion: This isn't about health, it's about control. Some people cannot stand freedom for others, and do everything they can to squelch it.
A centrally planned healthcare system mixed with a centrally planned school system that feeds kids, all to the benefit of obese crony capitalists, now that's quite a system. I say end all these government programs. Afterall, I am really concerned about these crony capitalists pigs getting to fat. Let's cut down on their cash flow and end all this.


  1. Why stop at controlling everybody's diet? Why not simply control who is allowed to procreate in the first place? We should study the genome and ancestry of everybody and only allow those with the best genes and the right morale attitudes to have children. And of course we shouldn't ignore the other side of the population curve. People with congenital health problems and poor life styles should not be allowed to burden the health care system with needlessly extending their costly lives. We should only give them enough health care to allow them to expire painlessly and quickly.

    You see how easy it is to be a collectivist? All you have to be is a complete sociopath.

  2. I prefer to always combat these kind of absurd calls for restriction by playing to the liberal/statist hatred and fear of racism. I point out that sure, excess sugar intake is highly correlated with obesity, so we should ban it. Likewise black people are highly correlated with crime commission, so they should also be banned. Or perhaps just restricted in propagation, or only permitted out at certain hours of the day.

    There is ZERO difference philosophically between the two positions. Something correlated with "badness" is banned or restricted. It illustrates to them the slippery slope they are entering. Most go on and rave and rave, but they still get the point, otherwise they would not rave about the absurdities of my modest proposal.

  3. This is the inevitable outcome of socialized insurance. Once this madness is accepted, then their will be no limits as to what government can regulate in the food/beverage industry. If the whole industry doesn't collapse then Sunstein & Company are going to nudge (force at the point of a gun) us to the point where we can only engage in the mass consumption of soda in our own homes, and then they will attack that.

  4. It is now abundantly evident that certain Harvard professors have evolved into a species of ape-like creatures with ZERO capacity for self-awareness and self-restraint. Ironically, it is conjectured that this evolutionary process which led to this unfortunate outcome was highly accelerated by the extreme Narcissism of Harvard elites, which led them to reject all feedback from the real world.

  5. "We humans did not evolve to eat healthily and go to the gym; until recently, we didn’t have to make such choices. But we did evolve to COOPERATE to help one another survive and thrive. Circumstances have changed, but we still need one another’s help as much as we ever did. For this reason, we need government on our side, not on the side of those who wish to make money by stoking our cravings and profiting from them. We have evolved to need COERCION." [my emphasis with caps]

    Cooperation = coercion? Interesting.

  6. What makes fructose, the kind of sugar most Americans eat, cheap is government subsidies to corn producers. How about cutting subsidies rather then sizes?

  7. This guy Lieberman is truly a Nutrition Nazi. At least he blatantly admits that he believes modern humans require coercion. Thats an unusual amount of candor from an academic control freak. Bottom line - do as he says or the overlords will punish you.

    Why not weight everyone in the country and take all the overweight people and put them in work camps. Feed them brown rice, cabbage and tofu to get their weight down while making them walk 10 miles a day carrying signs that read "All Hail The Dear Leader Lieberman". Then, if they lose enough weight, let them out with a remote weight monitor. As soon as they gain weight again it's back to the Peoples Glorious Revolutionary Fat Farm for some forced starvation. Eventually they will get their minds right and Lieberman will have his perfect Orwellian society.

  8. This article is from June.

    Anyway, here's is this jerk's home page: