Running The Gauntlet Once Again

Secondhand Fat

By Norman E. Kjono, July 27, 2007

Copyright © 2007 Norman E. Kjono


From the Seattle Times, July 26, 2007, "Fat May Be Contagious, Study Finds," by Rob Stein of the Washington Post:

"WASHINGTON - Obesity can spread from one person to another somewhat like the flu or a fad, researchers reported Wednesday in a trailblazing study that helps explain one of the nation's biggest public-health problems. The study, involving more than 12,000 people tracked over 32 years, found that 'social networks' play a surprisingly powerful role in determining an individual's chances of gaining weight, transmitting an increased risk of becoming obese from spouse to spouse, from brother to brother and from friend to friend. The researchers found that when one spouse became obese, the other was 37 percent more likely to do so in the next two to four years, compared with other couples. If a man became obese, his brother's risk rose by 40 percent. The risk rose even more sharply among friends - between 57 percent and 171 percent, depending on whether they considered each other mutual friends. Moreover, the researchers found friends affected friends' risk even when they lived far apart, and the influence cascaded through three degrees of separation before petering out. . . . Rather, the findings suggest that once a person becomes obese, for whatever reason, it may make it more socially acceptable for people close to him or her to gain weight, and that new social norms can proliferate quickly. 'What spreads is an idea. As people around you gain weight, your attitudes about what constitutes an acceptable body size changes, and you might follow suit and emulate that body size,' Christakis said. . . . Other researchers used words such as 'brilliant' and 'groundbreaking' to describe the work and said it is likely to lead to a flurry of new research. . . . The discovery could suggest new tactics for stemming the seemingly inexorable trend of obesity. The findings lend support to treating people in groups or even whole communities, for example. The researchers noted that their study also showed that people who were close to someone who lost weight were more likely to get thinner. 'If these close social environments can promote a disease, they can also promote solutions to disease,' said William Dietz of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 'These same social networks might be used to turn a disease like obesity around.' The proportion of obese Americans has been rising steadily for decades, and more than two-thirds of U.S. adults are now overweight, including one-third who are obese. Obesity boosts the risk for a host of health problems, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer. . . . 'This is not 'birds of a feather flock together.' It's not that obese or non-obese people simply find other similar people to hang out with,' Christakis said. 'Rather, there is a direct causal relationship.' . . . 'We were stunned to find that people who were hundreds of miles away had just as much impact on a person's weight status as friends who are next door,' Fowler said. 'This is not due to people eating or exercising together.' The researchers also found one person's weight gain only increased another's risk if the second person considered the first to be a friend. If not, there was no effect. If both considered the other a friend, the effect was magnified. 'This shows that this is a social process that goes on here,' Christakis said. . . . The researchers cautioned that people should not sever relationships with friends who gained weight, or stigmatize obese people, noting that close friendships have many positive health effects. But the results do support forming relationships with people who have healthy lifestyles." (Underline added.)

A news article that focuses on why overweight people should be shunned cautions that people "should not sever relationships with friends who gained weight, or stigmatize obese people" and then reports that study results "do support forming relationships with people who have healthy lifestyles."

Presumably, those who realign their relationships to conform to supporting healthy lifestyles will reduce their risk of experiencing diabetes, heart disease and cancer. After all, the studies show that those who have obese friends experience a 57 percent elevation in risk of becoming obese and when a relationship as friends is considered to be mutual the risk skyrockets to 171 percent. Try convincing a high school cheerleader that she should maintain a friendly relationship with an overweight classmate. The response a parent will predictably receive will be something akin to "No fat kids can be in our group. We're not going to get cancer just because she wants to have friends."

Health activists know that folks bought that line of reasoning in the War on Tobacco, to shun persons who smoke. Why not apply it with equal success to the War on Obesity?

From USA Today, July 9, 2007, "Does Food 'Addiction' Explain Explosion of Obesity?" by Nanci Hellmich:

"Obesity has long been blamed on weak willpower, overeating, genetics and lack of exercise. Now scientists increasingly are seeing signs that suggest there may be an additional contributor: food addiction. Monday night and again today, dozens of the nation's leading researchers in obesity, nutrition and addiction planned to discuss whether food has addictive properties for some people. They're gathering in New Haven, Conn., at a meeting sponsored by Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. 'We believe that there is sufficient science to suggest there is something to this, so we are bringing the leading authorities together to decide whether food addiction is real and what the underlying psychology and biology might be,' says Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center. It's surprising that our field has overlooked this concept for so long,' he says. 'Society blames obesity only on the people who have it and has been close-minded to other explanations.' Support for the idea of food addiction comes from animal and human studies, including brain imaging research on humans, says Mark Gold, chief of addiction medicine at the McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Florida, who is a co-chair for the meeting."


Try Pfizer's Champix. What works to block brain function for nicotine is also being examined to block similar brain functions from enjoying food. But addiction must first be taught. As people believe themselves to be so they are. Those who firmly believe they are addicted to nicotine will be addicted. Those who accept the notion they are addicted to food will behave as if they are. Both require medication to contend with the beliefs they have been taught and adopted.

From Forbes, January 11, 2006  "The Fat Tax: A Controversial Tool in the War Against Obesity"

"(HealthDay News) -- In America's ongoing battle of the bulge, one strategy to combat the nation's obesity epidemic has generated more than a decade's worth of attention and controversy. Popularly known as the "fat tax" or the "Twinkie tax," the concept first gained widespread attention in 1994 when Yale University psychology professor Kelly D. Brownell outlined the idea in an op-ed piece in The New York Times. Addressing what he called a "dire set of circumstances," Brownell proposed two food-tax options: A big tax, in the range of 7 percent to 10 percent, to discourage the purchase of unhealthy processed foods while subsidizing healthier choices; or a much smaller tax to fund long-term public health nutrition programs. "The American food system is set up as if maximizing obesity were the aim," Brownell told HealthDay. "So the idea was to tax either certain classes of foods -- like soft drinks or fat foods -- or to just tax specific foods high in calories or low in nutrition. Then you use the income from such a tax to subsidize the sale of healthy foods in order to reverse what is the unfortunate reality now: that it costs more to eat a healthier diet." The tax, said Brownell, would be a pro-active response to a food industry and consumer culture that increasingly promotes high-fat/low-nutrition products as the cheapest, tastiest, most convenient and most available dietary options. Brownell emphasized that, if properly implemented, fat taxes could yield major benefits. For example, slapping a single penny tax onto the cost of soft drinks across the country would generate almost $1.5 billion annually -- a figure that far exceeds the budgets of current government-sponsored nutrition programs, he said. The non-profit Washington, D.C.-based Institute of Medicine (IOM) reports that, in recent years, levies of this kind have, in fact, been imposed -- with states such as Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington creating "fat taxes" on soft drinks sold within their borders. Other states such as California, Maine and Maryland have also experimented with hefty "fat-tax" legislation, Brownell said. However, all the levies were ultimately repealed, highlighting several practical problems with the fat-tax concept identified by both Brownell and the IOM. One big problem is that money collected through fat taxes has typically not been earmarked for obesity-prevention programs or healthy food subsidies; instead they were often used to cover budget deficits. Concerns have also been raised that such a tax is inherently regressive, meaning it punishes poorer people who must spend much of their limited income on food." (Underline added.)

How will increased taxes on food reduce consumption by those who firmly believe they are addicted? Predictably, higher taxes will not change consumption to feed an addiction. Beliefs in addiction are necessary to assure optimum tax revenue yield to fund anti-obesity advocates.

From Reuters, July 12, 2007, "'Fat Tax' Could Save 3,200 Lives Each Year," by Peter Griffiths:

"LONDON (Reuters) - A "fat tax" on salty, sugary and fatty foods could save thousands of lives each year, according to a study published on Thursday. Researchers at Oxford University say that charging Value Added Tax (VAT) at 17.5 percent on foods deemed to be unhealthy would cut consumer demand and reduce the number of heart attacks and strokes. The purchase tax is already levied on a small number of products such as potato crisps, ice cream, confectionery and chocolate biscuits, but most food is exempt. The move could save an estimated 3,200 lives in Britain each year, according to the study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. "A well-designed and carefully-targeted fat tax could be a useful tool for reducing the burden of food-related disease," the study concluded. The team from Oxford's Department of Public Health said higher taxes have already been imposed on cigarettes and alcohol to encourage healthy living. They used a mathematical formula to estimate the effect of higher prices on the demand for foods such as pastries, cakes, cheese and butter." (Underline, Italic added.)

The 1988 report of U.S. Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop that declared nicotine to be as addictive as heroin or cocaine also reported that 300,000 Americans died from tobacco use each year. The current figure for tobacco related deaths touted by tobacco control advocates is about 430,000. After tobacco control began its tax and ban interventions in U.S. Public Policy in 1993 previous declines in adult current smokers leveled off and preceding increases in adults who quit smoking reversed. During that same period youth smoking prevalence skyrocketed 43 percent. Alleged tobacco related deaths today are 143 percent higher than those reported by tobacco control nearly twenty years ago, despite a more than 400 percent increase in federal and state excise taxes on cigarettes. What leads one to believe that a fat tax can "save" thousands of lives when cigarette taxes failed to do so?

From Skynews, July 12, 2007, "Calls for Fat Tax on Unhealthy Food:"

"Experts are putting pressure on the Government to introduce a "fat tax" on unhealthy foods, saying it could save thousands of lives.

A study from the Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham claims that taxing food containing lots of fat, salt and sugar would prevent more than 3,000 deaths a year from heart attacks and strokes. However, while it would save the NHS £6bn a year, it would put an extra 67p a week on food bills, which would total some £2bn annually across the UK. The author of the report, Dr Mike Rayner, told Sky News: 'There's an overabundance of cheap, bad food in this country and we need to tax it, to make it more expensive, to make people switch to healthy foods. 'If we do have a tax on unhealthy food it will raise money for the Inland Revenue and a good way of spending that would be to subsidise healthy food.'" (Underline added.)

If there is proposal for new taxes there will predictably be a study supporting that policy. The studies will proclaim lives and money to be "saved." Lost in the fray over policy debate is the now-transparent fact that the alleged death toll must keep rising to support the "compelling need" for more programs. What food gets subsidized and what food gets taxed? Who enjoys mercantile advantage from the policy and who is guaranteed loss of their business?

From the Seattle Times, July 26, 2007, "Some Would Like to Play Taps for Bottled Water," by Stevenson Swanson of the Chicago Tribune:

"Rather than spend money on costly plastic containers of water, consumers should boot the bottle and turn on their taps, according to such officials as San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, Salt Lake City Mayor Ross "Rocky" Anderson and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. Those three sponsored a resolution at last month's meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors calling for a study to examine the environmental impact that millions of empty plastic water bottles have on municipal garbage operations. . . . "For a long time, I've viewed [bottled water] as a huge marketing scam," Anderson said recently, explaining why he has called for Salt Lake City employees to drink tap water and use refillable water bottles. . . . The bottled-water business calls the attacks unfair. The head of the industry's leading trade group says bottled water's competition is not the kitchen faucet but the soft drinks, sports drinks, iced teas and other beverages that fill grocery shelves. "I think it's unfortunate there is now this tap-water-versus-bottled-water controversy," said Joseph Doss, president of the International Bottled Water Association, which represents 450 bottlers, distributors and suppliers. "We don't see it that way. I don't think consumers are replacing tap water with bottled water. We make a food product. We see other food products as our competitors." Only soft drinks outsell bottled water, and their market share has been declining."

If the Agenda-Afflicted advocacy process works for War on Obesity plus the War on Tobacco why not apply it to the War on Bottled Water, too?

We confront the true issue: it's not the current crisis or the Agenda-Afflicted program that will allegedly save us from it this time. It is, quite simply, what we choose to believe and make our reality today.


Where energy flows, life surly goes.

As we believe things come to be.

We define what's real, our lives our way,

by what we think and believe each day.

Perhaps we should consider a much simpler approach. Rather than pointing at them and what they do that must be taxed and banned this time it might be a good idea to examine what each of use chooses to believe each day.

Norman E. Kjono 

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