Having His Cake and Eating It Too

The February 2008 newsletter of the Obesity Society supports a new rule from the New York City's health commisssioner requiring restaurants to publish information about the number of calories in their food, but apparently the society's president, Dr. David B. Allison, hasn't gotten the word. The New York State Restaurant Association, which is suing to block the new rule, hired Allison to write an affidavit arguing against it, on grounds that if people know how many calories are in the food they eat, they actually might get fatter. The Center for Consumer Freedom, a notorious front group for the restaurant industry, has also thrown its weight against the rule, complaining that "the food cop campaign will plaster our nation's menus with warning labels."


As a sociologist who has studied the stigma of obesity for over 20 years, I believe the law IS ridiculous. I don't know how it will work, but I know it will not make one bit of difference in the obesity rate. If it is just that calorie count needs to be made available on request, only health fanatics will ask for it. If it the rabid version the likes of Jacobson want, where calorie count MUST be IN YOUR FACE, people will just stop going to restaurants and eat at home. Or they will order some tasteless low cal piece of crap with the healthy heart on it, then binge in secret at home. All it will do is further exacerbate the guilt surrounding food. Furthermore, food in restaurants is not a major contributer to this (hyped) obesity epidemic. Dieting, pollution, stress, overwork, and growth hormones are. As well as good old genetics.

I personally have never taken a dime from the food industry. I lived my life according to my beliefs. But I believe the health nazis and bigdietpharma (BARFMA) are the greater evils. I am more than willing to sell me expertise at this point. We keep on repeating the same mistakes on obesity over and over. It is absurb. It is time to move on from weight obsession and take care of real problems.

"Fat can be beautiful. Ignorance is ALWAYS ugly."

With all due respect, your arguments are complete nonsense. You seem to be saying that listing calorie counts on restaurant menus is inherently a form of harassment of people who eat there. If that's the case, shopping in grocery stores must already be a humiliating and traumatic experience, since U.S. law requires foods in grocery stores to be labeled with nutrition information that includes not just calories, but carbohydrates, fat content, sodium, sugar, etc.

If you want to avoid the "guilt" of knowing how many calories are in the food you eat, of course you have the option of not reading the nutritional information, just as many (probably most) people don't read the nutritional labels on grocery store foods. It's absurd, however, to suggest that this information should not be made available to consumers. Currently it is simply impossible to obtain meaningful nutritional information from many restaurants, including some of the large chains. Here, for example, is the "nutritional information" page on the website of Outback Steakhouses:


You'll notice that the word "calorie" does not even appear anywhere on the page, or anywhere else on their website -- not terribly surprising, since their "appetizers" alone include items like the "Bloomin' Onion w. Dressing" ([http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20070803231428AA5E6qr 2310 calories]) and "Aussie Cheese Fries" ([http://www.calorieking.com/foods/calories-in-appetizers-aussie-tizers-aussie-cheese-fries_f-Y2lkPTI3NzM2JmJpZD0xMzM1JmZpZD04ODk1OSZlaWQ9MjQ1ODgwNTY5JnBvcz0zJnBhcj0ma2V5PU91dGJhY2sgU3RlYWtob3VzZQ.html 2900 calories]), either of which by itself would exceed the 2,000 calories per day established by the FDA as the Daily Reference Value for a normal adult.

Back in my days as an EMT, we used to joke about the virtues of a national fat tax -- not to mention standards for assessing and means of collecting it. I'll bet the jokes are getting even harsher now:


Obesity taxes ambulance gear
Heavy-duty stretchers would cost Gilmanton

Monitor staff
February 27, 2008

Doctors, politicians and pundits have long debated the ramifications of America's expanding waistline, but for folks in Gilmanton, the potential cost of societal girth is crystal clear: $15,812. Enough money to buy ambulance equipment designed with hefty patients in mind.

If voters approve at next month's town meeting...

[Full story at the link.]

I realize that by no means everyone is as lucky as I am in being able to control my weight without dieting if I can make myself exercise consistently, and that for some their obesity is truly intractable. I also realize that the weight-loss game is one of the most exploitive in this lofty culture of ours. And no question about it: jokes about fat are cruel and beauty is more than skin deep.

BUT...the obesity epidemic really is a serious problem, and it's getting worse. Denial is madness.

If obesity is really so out of control, how come we are living longer than ever? As far as denying it, we have had the same health warnings for over 50 years. You can go back to the surgeon generals of the 1950s and hear the same rhetoric they are spouting now. Our theories about calories in vs. out are simplistic and out of date. THEY are part of the problem, one of the VERY reasons obesity has increased. (Although the latest stats have it leveled off!) And who in God's name thinks we are in denial when young girls are more afraid of fat than cancer or losing a parent. It is the NUMBER ONE thing women would like to change about their lives. I can not feel one bit sorry the economy is crashing. We get what we deserve. My number one thought is FINALLY something to talk about beside diet babble!

I am glad you feel "lucky" to control your weight. I feel "lucky" to be weigh 220lbs at 5"7" and be PROUD to admit it, using my 25Plus years of sociology to understand society can be wrong sometimes. As far as EMTs being insensitive; well, one of the men I date is a firefighter/EMT and if I ever heard him make a joke like that it would be over.

With all due respect, I feel the same way about your response being nonsense. Reactionary nonsense!!! There have been different proposals made for HOW the calories should be made available. I personally have NO objections whatsoever to making all that kind of info available on REQUEST for people who WANT it. But there have been proposals to put it right next to the menu so there is no way to avoid it. Because of the social delusions that fat people are happily munching away on junk food, oblivious to the health warnings around them. The real situation is that most fat people are on code red and desperately doing everything possible to diminish themselves ASAP! Many fat nags who do not have financial motives (like CSPI) have NO CLUE of the sensibilities of fat people. The factions that DO have financial agendas, like Pharma, know how fat people work inside and out. Which is why so many health campaigns are designed to increase stigma and social pressure. It is about successful marketing, rather than true understanding. Funny, though that both factions use the same means despite their different motives!

Supermarkets are NOT like restaurants. One can buy their food and take it home, not sit and suffer the judgments of their dining companions and wait staff. But to turn that argument around, most people eat at home more than out. Why haven't labels made a difference!!!!!!!!!!!! I am not writing to argue though, or change minds of the unchangeable. I write for the small percent who are sick to death of weight obsession and want another perspective!

First of all, you seem to be suggesting that fat people are the only people who have an interest in knowing how many calories are in the food being served at restaurants. This of course, is not the case. Everyone (fat or thin) has the right to know how many calories are in the food they eat, just as they have the right to know how much sodium it contains, how many carbohydrates, how much protein, fiber, saturated fat, sugar, etc. For some people, such as diabetics, this information can be vitally important to their health. To suggest that it should be kept off of restaurant menus so that fat people won't have to worry about what other people think of them is to argue that everyone's right to information should be held hostage to the sensitivities of one segment of the population. Moreover, most of the disapproval you describe comes, not from nutrition information (or lack of it) on restaurant menus, but rather from the fact that fat people LOOK fat, and society stigmatizes their appearance. (I agree that this is an often unfair prejudice, but it doesn't come from calorie counts.)

At one point you seem to agree with me on this point. You write that there are "social delusions that fat people are happily munching away on junk food, oblivious to the health warnings around them." If indeed this were a social delusion, you would have nothing to fear from the inclusion of nutritional information on restaurant menus, and in fact you should welcome this information, in the expectation that it would change "the judgments of their dining companions and wait staff." You are therefore contradicting yourself when you claim that this information is a source of stigma against fat people.

As for whether nutritional labels make a difference, they clearly do. They make a difference to me, for example. When I'm shopping in the grocery store, I find it valuable to know that one brand of yogurt contains 170 calories and 32 grams of carbohydrates, while another brand (which tastes just as good and makes me feel just as full) contains 80 calories and 14 grams of carbohydrates. I use this sort of information to make decisions when shopping at the grocery store, and I should have the same right to make informed choices when I'm at a restaurant.

This information is important, not because everyone should feel pressured to conform to some ideal standard of what their bodies should look like, but because obesity (which is caused in part by poor diet) carries real health risks including heart disease, diabetes and arthritis. Knowing what is in the foods we eat can help people who want to reduce those risks.

Finally, you are simply wrong when you suggest that the pharmaceutical industry has a "financial agenda" that benefits from restaurants providing better nutritional information. To the contrary, drug companies make quite a bit of money from selling drugs that treat diseases like diabetes or reduce cholesterol, which can also be controlled or prevented without the use of drugs (more safely, in many cases) through lifestyle changes involving diet and exercise. It's true that there is a market for drugs that target obesity specifically, such as appetite suppressants, but that market has actually [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12742801 declined during the past decade] due in part to the fen-phen disaster. And even at the peak of the craze, the number of Americans taking appetite suppressants was 2.5 million, a fraction of the numer who are taking drugs to treat diseases linked to obesity. Currently, for example, the U.S. has 20.8 million people suffering with diabetes (the sixth most common cause of death in the country), and more than 85 percent of people with diabetes are overweight. (And that's just diabetes. Throw in the drugs sold to treat other obesity-related health problems such as high cholesterol and heart disease, and we're talking about an absolute gold mine for big pharma.)

It would be nice to have nutritional information about each dish in the menu. People who have health problems, e.g. suffer from obesity need to know what they are eating and how many calories one or another dish contains. That`s great, I think. Heathy eating is very important for our health in general. People who don`t care about the calories can just don`t pay attention.