At a ceremony at the White House on Tuesday, First Lady Michelle Obama announced the launch of the ‘Let’s Move’ campaign to end childhood obesity in the United States, an epidemic she said is costly and a threat to national security.
“A recent study put the health care cost of obesity-related diseases at $147 billion a year,” Mrs. Obama said. “This epidemic also impacts the nation’s security, as obesity is now one of the most common disqualifiers for military service.”
Great. Another epidemic. Just what we need.
One of the common tendencies in our culture is to transform character flaws into a medical condition (for instance, sex addiction) then declare the condition is an epidemic. To be clear, obesity is not a disease and obesity in no way meets even a minimal requirement for the use of the term.
Without going into a lot of details on the subject, let me make a few points. First, the definition of “obesity” is artificial and the Body Mass Index standard for declaring someone “obese” is arbitrary. This number was lower in 1998 in order to bring US standards in line with WHO standards. To understand the importance of the definition, the change in BMI from overweight=27.5 to BMI=25 added 30 million Americans to the ranks of the overweight.
No one is going to argue that obesity, in most persons, brings with it a variety of health problems. When obesity is achieved in childhood the problems are magnified. Having said that, it is a quantum leap from recognizing a physical trait which can be managed through diet and exercise to declaring the those who have that trait are part of some sort of epidemic.
Now the next question to ask is what the federal government is going to do with this newly discovered epidemic? We don’t know but it doesn’t take an alarmist to see foods being banned, states acting to remove obese children from their homes, etc.
So while we can chuckle at chuckleheaded notions like obesity preventing kids from enlisting (note to FLOTUS, those standards can be changed, just like the rules on tatoos, education, etc.) unless we take very seriously what is afoot here we will find our diet and exercise regimens subjected to scrutiny that will make the E:PA enforcement arm look benign and disinterested by comparison.