November 18, 2004

Fitness, not Fatness:
Activity Much More Important Than Weight To Good Health

In a cool piece about sometimes Bush advisor David Frum's suggestion that we tax cola - based of all things on Canada - Radley Balko of the Cato Institute offers some much-needed perspective on the left's new obsession: hating fast food. In their fervor to abandon the last vestiges of civil libertarianism on the left, Democrats and 'progressives' are bashing fast food, hamburgers, donuts, ice cream, soda and anything else corporations have a hand in selling. Balko points out and excellent study:

    A recent report for the President's Council on Physical Fitness and sports quoted the Cooper Institute researcher Steven Blair, who summarized, "active obese individuals actually have lower morbidity and mortality than normal weight individuals who are sedentary."

    In fact, according to Blair's research, a sedentary person of normal weight is twice as likely to die early than an obese man who's active. The relative mortality risk of an obese but active man rises only to 1.1 times that of a normal weight, active man. In other words, activity is much more indicative of good health than weight.

Say an active man of average weight has X mortality risk - risk of dying. If the normal man were to maintain an active lifestyle but were obese (yes, it's quite possible) he would go to only 1.1X. If a man were sedentary, inactive and lazy but of normal weight, he would double the fat active guy to be 2.2X mortality risk. In other words an active obese man is much less unhealthy as a normal weight sedentary man.

The key to health is overwhelmingly how active you are, not so much what you eat or how much you eat. Of course, anyone with an eye to history would realize that for most of our history, fatter people have been associated with health (if not beauty) and skinnier people with lack of nutrition. After all, fatties are going to survive if food gets scarce, but skinny bastards die out if food isn't around. It's also linked to wealth - the cheaper food is in relation to one's assets, the bigger you can afford to be. Of course, we are so wealthy and safe now that food will probably never be scarce absent war or environmental disaster, and even then it'd have to be huge to have more than a temporary effect.

But the real result: all those hydrogenated trans fats the Progs are bashing are much less important to health than just getting some exercise. So taxing food, soda, sugar or banning McDonald's is going to make us poorer, sadder or both, but it would only make us marginally healthier - and even then it'd have to be comprehensive or we'll just buy the fat foods that remain.

If you want people to be healthier, activity is the solution, not burdensome taxes and regulations. What we're doing is way more important than what we're eating.

Now how do we address the need for a more active population? Well, we don't - at least, not directly like the left wants to ban certain foods and smoking. Taxing transportation in an attempt to make people walk more is only going to make us pay more and is going to disproportionately punish the poorest Americans who are only trying to get to work. You could try tax credits for buying bicycles, scooters and jump-ropes but that's rather silly and difficult to administer. I think in the end we have to look at where we might be discouraging activity and where to encourage it.

I think, ultimately, exercise is just something people have to do on their own, the same as good nutrition, respectful relationships, and polite table manners. After all, the government doesn't step in and stop people from calling their girlfriends 'bitches' or their boyfriends 'dicks' - although most people would consider that behavior quite offensive. It doesn't tell you to keep your elbows off the table. The government doesn't dress you - although it would appear a lot of people could use some helpful pointers from friends. The government shouldn't control your diet and it shouldn't control your exercise habits. Personal responsibility has to be something we allow and rely on, not just pay lip service to in campaign rhetoric.

If people want to be fat, then let them. If people want to be lazy, then let them. At some point, we have to realize that legislators can't control everything, and that's okay. All we can do is make sure we don't get in the way of the right thing and let them live their lives. Americans are not our children or our wards, they are decent, self-responsible people and they can decide themselves if they want to be healthy or not, fat or not.

This just proves my point about government-provided health care. When the government foots the bill for your doctor visits, it takes an interest in your personal behavior. Smokers have long been targeted for rising medical costs associated with lung and heart disorders. Fat people are being targeted for the cost of medical insurance, unfairly. A slur against gay people is that they contract an inordinate amount of sexual diseases that then affect insurance premiums. We need to stop taking an interest in each other's personal habits, and the only way to do that is to make sure we don't have a financial interest in them.

Therefore, I propose three steps. One, we need to privatize health care over the long haul, shift it to the states and to private insurers. Two, people will be able to afford this with heaping tax cuts for the poorest Americans and Health Savings Accounts to make sure there's more available for health insurance. Studies show this is extremely effective at insuring uninsured Americans. Three, we need to make sure it's legal for (at least some) health plans to exclude people for any reason. That way, those who hate fat people, smokers or whatever can get insurance that isn't linked to the cost of treating fat people or smokers. If people don't have to be affected financially by each other's habits then they'll calm down about bashing total strangers.

And of course, the left needs to shut the fuck up. Fat people have a hard enough time as it is without progressives turning them into either social leeches or charity cases.

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