Monday, November 8, 2010

Poppin' a Cap In the Nanny's Ass

The Nanny State is at it again.  The first Nanny-ism I commented on was the's ill-considered war on salt.  Then, of course, there's the First Lady's attack on children's menus.  Now, I'm sure most of you saw that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has banned any child's meal that comes with a toy: McDonald's Happy Meal is the archetype that got the headlines. 
"Supporters of the ban claim it will help protect children from obesity, while opponents see it as just the latest example of the nanny state run wild and say it's the parents' right and responsibility -- not the government's -- to choose what's right for their children."
I'll take B.  Allow me a slight detour first. 

Down on the lower right of the top this page is a small, random selection of perhaps 20 books I've entered into the Library Thing web site.  One of the books that will show up from time to time is "Good Calories, Bad Calories" by Gary Taubes, a science writer who has won several prestigious awards in that field: his article "The Soft Science of Dietary Fat" turned the popular perception of this area on its ear.  As someone who has fought the "battle of the bulge" since I was about 15, I've been studying this subject in as much depth as I can for as long as I can recall. "GC/BC" is a very well researched look at much of the common wisdom about diet; about the dangers of eating fat, the role of westernization in the spread of disease, and how the culprit might well be refined carbohydrates rather than fats.  If you have any interest in this field at all, it's really a good read. 

Getting back to the Nanny State, what they won't tell you is that these sorts of efforts have been ongoing for some years now and they are not effective.  If you take the french fries away, kids don't magically get slimmer.  You can really eat anything, anything, and lose weight if you follow some common rules. CNN reports on a professor of nutrition who ate a junk food diet, of " Twinkies. Nutty bars. Powdered donuts.", and lost 27 pounds.

"For 10 weeks, Mark Haub, a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University, ate one of these sugary cakelets every three hours, instead of meals. To add variety in his steady stream of Hostess and Little Debbie snacks, Haub munched on Doritos chips, sugary cereals and Oreos, too."
Adding interest to the story is that many of the blood tests routinely run to monitor health improved for Professor Haub.  The good Professor is reluctant to say he's healthier, but your blood doesn't lie.  If the numbers mean anything to begin with, if you improve the numbers, you've improved your health. 
"Haub's 'bad' cholesterol, or LDL, dropped 20 percent and his 'good' cholesterol, or HDL, increased by 20 percent. He reduced the level of triglycerides, which are a form of fat, by 39 percent."
A simple explanation is that losing weight probably made these blood profiles better.  As I pointed out in my long piece on corporate wellness programs, these indicators don't show that you're "well" so much as they point out that you're young and healthy

It doesn't matter that the Nannies behind the Happy Meal ban are well-intentioned.  Banning toys is not going to have the desired effect and personal liberty continues the long slide down the drain. Obesity is a big, complicated topic, and simply removing options is not going to fix everything.  I always get the feeling that these nannies would walk into a village in the third world with people lying around starving to death and think, "my, look how nice and lean they look!"

Perhaps the best introduction to the topic of obesity for the intelligent lay-person is Adiposity 101, a continuously updated paper online since the early 1990s.  It might just turn some notions of yours upside down.


  1. I can attest to the verity of this. Last year I decided to lose some weight so I cut back on portion size a bit, evened out my meal schedule (instead of eating one big meal and two other smaller ones I made all of the approximately equal), and most importantly increased my level of activity well above what I had been doing. Within 6 months I had lost 50 lbs and felt much better. I didn't really change what I ate, just how I ate it and then added increased activity to the mix. I still ate (though not exclusively) burgers and pizza and *gasp* bacon - I did cut soda out though - and like the professor in this piece, my lipid profile improved and my blood pressure went down. The best I can tell it was the exercise that did it, I know it felt better being in shape. As for that nanny state BS, I own myself and its my business what I put in my body. Just tell me the risks and let me make the choice - anything else is thinly veiled totalitarianism. What's good for me is for the .gov to leave me alone...

  2. It is becoming conventional wisdom to the weight loss doctors that what you're doing is exactly right. Cut back a little, eat smaller amounts more often, and don't starve.

    Apparently cutting back too much, like they did to us in the 1960s and 70s, causes a starvation response which causes the body to drop metabolic rates and save that precious fat. We were designed for harder times and scarcer food supplies (you can say "evolved during" harder times, if it makes you feel better). When I was 18, I had a doctor cut me to 1000 calories a day. I lost some weight, but in no time got listless and sick. Weight loss stopped. Of course that led the doctor to accuse me of cheating and all but scream at me in his office.

    Exercise is a tough one to add in, because it makes you hungrier. It can surely help, if you don't get too hungry. Basically, trying to stay close to equilibrium (intake vs. output) and taking small steps seems to work better than trying to go fast.

    But that makes the whole Nanny intervention pretty meaningless, doesn't it? As always with the malicious do-gooder, it's all about control and power for them.

  3. For my exercise I mostly use a (okay, start laughing) Tony Little Gazelle for large movement and a personal sized rebounder (not really a trampoline) on alternating days. About half an hour is all it takes for me and I'm not religious about it, sometimes I skip if I've walked a lot at the range or done something else that got me moving that day (and sometimes I skip just because I don't feel like it).

    I read the same thing about our bodies going into starvation mode and that's what made me even out the meals. I had been eating almost all my calories at one time, and that time was generally at night. Double bad there. Spreading the meals out over the day really helps with the I'm-hungry-right-now thing as well because I generally know when the next meal is coming. I've also been known to snack on veggies since they fill you decently and aren't very calorie dense.

    Man, listen to me going on about losing weight - I sound like my teenage daughter, sheesh.

  4. Hey, I just noticed that I could post under my handle (that's where my semi-active blog is). Let me give this a try...

    Leveraction (a.k.a. Event Horizon)