The Obesity Epidemic: Science, Morality, and Ideology

By Michael Gard; Jan Wright | Go to book overview

10

Beyond body weight

In the final weeks of writing this book an international 'obesity epidemic' conference was held at an Australian university. Although obesity conferences have become commonplace, this one was a little different in that it sought to educate obesity scientists in the art of lobbying government officials. Despite the publicity that the 'obesity epidemic' has generated, there are those who believe that governments are still not treating the matter with the seriousness it deserves.

At this stage it is not completely clear what the scientific community would have governments do, particularly in light of uncertainty about what is actually causing the 'obesity epidemic'. Nonetheless, among the suggestions we have read in the scientific literature have been changing building codes and urban planning practices in order to force people to exercise more; higher taxes on 'unhealthy' foods; bans on advertising for 'junk food' during children's television periods; compulsory fitness training and testing in schools; the development of national fitness benchmarks against which all children can be measured; teacher monitoring of the contents of children's lunch boxes; the placement of 'healthy diet' posters and messages by parents around the home; and even higher taxes on those citizens who do not achieve a certain amount of weekly exercise. In this context, it may not be altogether surprising if governmental response continues to lag behind the demands of obesity science.

However, there is perhaps a more straightforward reason why governments, to this point, have not sprung into action. It may actually be the case that not everyone is quite so convinced that overweight and obesity is the 'drop every-thing' problem we have been told it is. Despite the insistence of parts of the scientific community that overweight or obesity are states of disease, perhaps other people can see that it is quite possible to be healthy, happy and large. Perhaps, even without the benefit of a scientific education, people sense that the pathways that lead from overweight and obesity to premature death are extremely indirect, that daily exercise does not ensure good health and that food should be enjoyed, not agonized over. Perhaps they look around the world and see that the health of Western nations is comparatively good, probably improving, and that wholesale changes to the way we live are simply not warranted. Perhaps they see that, given the health challenges that currently face different parts of the world, describing entire Western populations as 'sick' seems a bit of a stretch. Perhaps they have come to the understanding that what Dubos (1971) called the mirage of perfect health is just that, a mirage, and that lives are lived in the context of

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