Is Obesity Political?

Atlantic bloggers take on the big, fat story.

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In the midst of a national conversation over health care, America's long, love-hate relationship with fat was sure to come up. Why? Because controlling costs has proven key to health care reform, and many say it's less expensive to treat people with a healthy diet than those who are overweight. But is American obesity really a public health problem? Or is obesity something the government can't — and shouldn't — legislate?

As it happens, a vigorous debate on the subject has broken out right here on The Atlantic.

Leading off was Megan McArdle, who wrote that it may not make sense to declare a national war on fat since "lower levels of overweight/obesity aren't so well correlated with poor health." In an interview with Paul Campos, the author of The Obesity Myth, said that Americans are "in the midst of a moral panic over fat that has transformed the heavier than average into folk devils, to whom all sorts of social ills are ascribed." And for the most part, Megan seems to agree.

Marc Ambinder, however, couldn't disagree more. "Government's role isn't to scold; it's to make better policy choices," he writes:

"McArdle is right that it it's not fair for government to lecture people about weight loss and exercise, but she's right for the wrong reason: policy choices -- ag subsidies, zoning laws, education and budget priorities -- create a flow that, absent any intervention, are sweeping many young kids, particularly poorer kids of color, into obesity."

James Fallows, a national correspondent for the magazine, is with Marc on this one. "I chime in on the issue mainly to express this view: denying that America's obesity situation has changed; or that it has harmful consequences; or that it could, like smoking, be affected by public policies strikes me as antifactual denialism."

As the health care debate wears on, expect this conversation to continue, and not only here. Case in point: Politico just reminded its readers that Congress isn't exactly a model for healthy living. "Members of the Senate Finance Committee like to snack on Doritos, potato chips and beef jerky," Lisa Lerer writes, "while considering the future of health care."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.