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Rebuttal: Obesity is not a choice

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed to ban large-sized drinks like these to curb the obesity epidemic.

Tess Vigeland: A couple of weeks ago we aired a commentary opposing the ban on giant sodas in New York City. Justin Wilson posed the idea that obesity is a product of personal irresponsibility. Well this week commentator David Lazarus offers a rebuttal.


David Lazarus: Whenever a business wants to justify selling you something it knows is bad for you, it doesn't pitch you on the merits of the product. It pitches you on a red-white-and-blue, don't-tread-on-me sense of personal freedom.

That's how the tobacco industry plays it, and that's how Justin Wilson spun things in a recent commentary on this show. He was discussing New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed ban on super-sized sugary beverages. Past public-health regulations focused on protecting us from each other, Wilson argued. Bloomberg's proposal represents something new: Protecting us from ourselves.

Now, I know Justin Wilson. He and I have spoken about the obesity epidemic. I don't mean to undermine his credibility on this issue, but it helps if you know a little more about his organization, the friendly-sounding Center for Consumer Freedom. That's one of Ralph Nader's groups, right?

No. The Center for Consumer Freedom is a front for the food and beverage industry, which provides most of its funding. The organization's staffers have a clear interest in downplaying the responsibility of their corporate backers for the obesity crisis. They're also paid to decry any move that they say infringes on people's liberties.

But Wilson was right: Mayor Bloomberg is trying to protect us from ourselves. Why? Because we're too easily swayed by the food and beverage industry's ads telling us to consume more. According to the latest estimates, nearly half the adult population of the U.S. will be obese by 2030.

So are Americans fat because they want to be? I don't think so. Do they eat and drink so much because they choose to? I doubt it. Americans are fat because they can't help themselves, because they're bombarded with cues from food and beverage sellers to keep stuffing their faces.

If that's what consumer freedom is all about, we'd all benefit from less of it.


Vigeland: David Lazarus answers your questions from time to time on this program. He's also a business and consumer columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

About the author

David Lazarus is an American business and consumer columnist for the Los Angeles Times.
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On this Independence Day I'm troubled by the ignorance and strong fascist instinct of some of the recent commentators (could they be David's OWS buds). The common thread in the rationalizations I've just read is that there are mythical dumb people (apparently, Ghetto-Americans) who need us sanctimonious 'intellectuals' (whose wisdom is seriously in doubt) to protect them from FOOD...  And to do so we should all buy the Ghetto-American myth, give up a little of our personal rights (at least all of those that make diet, exercise and 'health' personal & private), and live as a harmonious self-sacrificing mob (I mean 'community').  What a great idea (sarcasm)!  What is missing from our schools is apparently a decent Civics education. 

What are we talking about here. Food companies make their food irresistibly tasty, and use their big profits to bribe Congress to look the other way, to make poor dumb people (a.k.a. Ghetto-Americans) forever hooked... Really? Is this a comedy??

"But I simply can't accept any of the comments suggesting it's purely a matter of personal responsibility and personal choices. In this context, that's nothing other than arrogance and ignorance. When people, or whole segments of our society are boxed in by poverty, minimal education, and very few job opportunities, they don't have the wherewithal or options to make the kind of "responsible" personal choices some of you so easily espouse." - and this is not arrogance and ignorance?  This, again, is why there are two Americas...

"It's up to us, [those of] us who aren't living in poverty, to decide whether we live as a community, or only look out for our personal interests. But the underclasses of this society won't disappear by ignoring them. The burden of poor health will be borne by all." - Stop!!! Please Stop!  I can't tell if this sentiment is propagated by stealth Marxists, or just the ignorant. Either way, justifying the easy abrogation of personal liberty, even for heart felt compassionate reasons, is just as dumb and dangerous of an idea.

"those rights stop when it becomes a serious issue (due to the shared health care costs) for everyone else, exactly like second hand smoke." - this assertion is simply untrue and a really great illustration as to the primary reason why actual freedom loving Americans opposes the Affordable Care Act.  

When you decide my health is your business (under what ever auspice or excuse you decide people will most emotionally connect to) , there is no personal freedom and privacy left. If my 'health' (which can defined from what I eat, what I don't eat, how much I exercise, if I take stress breaks, if I like to read books and smell roses, whether i've had a colonoscopy in the last year, if i walk to work on a busy street, if i play dangerous sports, and when, where, how, and who I procreate with, and anything else you dangerous dreamers can think of) becomes your business or governments control, there is nothing else to talk about - Citizen.  

I am very much against government interference into the lawful activities of citizens' lives. Mine especially... But I simply can't accept any of the comments suggesting it's purely a matter of personal responsibility and personal choices. In this context, that's nothing other than arrogance and ignorance. When people, or whole segments of our society are boxed in by poverty, minimal education, and very few job opportunities, they don't have the wherewithal or options to make the kind of "responsible" personal choices some of you so easily espouse.

I would say we are all -- regardless of education and socioeconomic status -- influenced by corporate marketing. The difference is whether we can drive our car 30 miles to buy food at a market of our choice, have a freezer full of meat we may not get around to eating, and have to choose whether to upgrade to the iPad 3 or stick with the second generation Pad, vs cleaning toilets at the houses with all the i-devices and MacBooks for 12 hours every day, and feeding our kids boxes of mac-n-cheese from a corner store.

Go spend a few weeks in a housing project and get a look at the options for personal responsibility. Not willing to do that? Then save your commentary for drinks with friends on the rooftop patio.

There is NO big money lobbying for the uneducated and unemployable classes. But the companies that market to them have unlimited budgets and an easily-reachable consumer group. Go get your education on at the C e n t e r % F o r C o n s u m e r % F r e e d o m [sic]. It's reminiscent of C. Buckley's novel, "Thank You for Smoking"

It's up to us, the us who aren't living in poverty, to decide whether we live as a community, or only look out for our personal interests. But the underclasses of this society won't disappear by ignoring them. The burden of poor health will be borne by all.

Leaving my personal Holier-Than-Though pulpit, I would like to see something tangible happen with health care in this country, but doubt it's possible. I would especially like to see some curbs on food mega-corps subverting the nation's health. Is it so unreasonable that food labels should disclose genetically engineered ingredients? Do we really need marketing to rebrand High-Fructose Corn Syrup? Should we really feel bad that one or two meat processing plants in the Midwest went under because of liberal media writing stories about the slime that could only be consumed after treatment with ammonium hydroxide gas? Come on, how many McDonalds patrons have any clue about the slime in their big macs?

For what it's worth, I grew up eating Mac-n-Cheese from Kraft, poor, got a degree, have traveled outside the country many times, spent 15+ years self-emplyed in high tech, and still ride the roller coaster of living well enough some years, or fearing there's no safety net to catch me when I fall. I guess I'm not always making the right choices... One more month and I can get on my new employer's health insurance plan.

I know it's crap food, I like a little taco bell once a month...

I disagree with both of you. While "rights" are not to be messed with (this country hasnt been free since Reagan and it accelerated at light speed after the ultimate fear-monger event; 9/11) those rights stop when it becomes a serious issue (due to the shared health care costs) for everyone else, exactly like second hand smoke.
And this needs to be done not b/c sheeple just make bad choices (I've never seen half the ads most have as I dont watch TV) but b/c the food/drug companies have figured out how to bypass your "free will" and assault your reptilian brain with excessive salt, sugar and fat and make you want it even when your rational mind knows better.
the solution is to a) ban advertising to kids under 16 of same fatty/sugary/salty crap on shows aimed at them b) try Bloomberg's suggestion (and include 7/11 type stores too, that was cop out) c) ban that crap from schools, no if ands or buts and d) require serious phys ed and nutritional classes in schools -no free passes b/c you're too fat and already type 2 diabetic at 15- lasting at least 90 mins of serious sweating 3-5x a week. could let them walk a minimum of 5-7 miles -while at school- each week as an alternative.
what far too many people dont know either b/c their memory is bad or just werent around then was this; people only became fat tubs of lard the last 20 years. in the 80's and early 90's, only 25%-35% of the population was fat. now its like 70% in my lard butt state. people's "free will" didnt go in the toilet in the last 15 years- the food/drug companies figured out how to hook them exactly like the tobacco industry did before people came to their senses. and its way past time to declare the same type of war on these manipulative, greedy sob's and tax their profits to pay for remedial programs to get people off the food drugs that infect society at every turn.

David Lazarus' rebuttal wasn't really a rebuttal. David boldly asserts that people do not eat bad food because they choose to, or because they want to. He asserts people eat bad food because "they're too easily swayed". People are just powerless against advertisements and the brainwashing from BIG FAST FOOD. They're (or is it we’re) just helpless.

This assertion by David Lazarus is absurd. David so easily demonstrates why there are increasingly more entrenched opposing political segments in this country. How does anyone address an assertion so silly and wrong? What are David's presumptions? His motivation? In my 40 years I've yet to meet David's proto-American. I’ve never met this pseudo-person (over the age of 12) who cannot stop eating french fries and twinkles, because the advertising is so persuasive. Everyone has foods they love and crave (mine is Starbucks). And everyone is exposed to advertising (I've never seen a Starbuck ad in my life). But David's jellyfish proto-American is a non-existent.

So why are we empowering the government to remove some more of our liberties to protect a non-existing person who suffers from a non-existing dysfunction that has presumably no other recourse?

Justin Wilson is correct. Personal responsibility and individual liberty are foundational principles that are not to be trifled with lightly. And, Mayor Bloomberg’s new regulation stands in stark contrast to this engrained sense.

There is, however, a political faction that has been working to reverse this engrained sense and instill in a majority of us the paradigm that we need to be protected from ourselves (one can only guess what is being taught by David’s peers in the schools). They honestly believe that the times are changing and the State needs to outlaw whatever excesses we might inflict upon ourselves. But this is new - or at least (in Realtor speak) "newer".

The obvious fact is that people are eating poorly because they are making bad choices. But these are personal choices and not the automated actions of a powerless zombie. Life is risky. And, in this country one wants, expects, and is endowed with liberty and personal responsibility.

David not only dismisses personal responsibility without any real argument, he sniffs at the idea of liberty. Seriously? Justin Wilson argues that personal liberty should not be subverted for personal protection from food, and David dismisses the idea with a guffaw.

Finally, David also states that he knows Justin Wilson, but needs to tell you and I Justin’s dirty little secret - he's a stooge for the food and beverage industry. I found that to be the worst part of a very bad commentary. Pssst! Hey! This is the listener's cue to dismiss Justin's argument. Don't even listen. He is not credible. Next time, David, come up with a compelling argument rather than an empty call to ignorance.

Thanks for listening.

Another attempt to lay blame at some else door step -

There are cues from food and beverage sellers selling all kinds of food. I see those cues too. I choose to eat vegetables versus choosing to eat fried chicken. I choose. People make choices. Do not blame anyone else. This is what drives me crazy. Lack of personal responsibility for your actions! Take responsibility! You can choose to ignore the cues, walk away, shut off the darn TV and go for a walk instead, and do something else instead of eating.

Genetics plays a large factor in the outcome of those choices, however. I've always seemed to notice that the ones who choose nothing but a "healthy" diet always seem to get struck with some healthcare crisis due to their "healthy" diet. I've wondered how wise it is to eat fruits and vegetables picked by migrant workers who have not had many vaccinations...but good point on personal responsibility. The only problem is that even in being responsible, genetics and bad luck tend to play a larger role than we care to admit. I'm 35 and have smoked since I was 16 but never drank alcohol ever...I'm Irish...I can still run fast and am in better shape than most non-smokers I see. All my parents and grand-parents (Smokers and Drinkers) are still alive and kicking. On the flipside, I see people that never smoked a day in their life who are diabetic, eat lots of fruits and veggies, and have a life expectancy of about 55. And so it goes...

You're fat because you're lazy. Deal with it.

Have a nice day.

Thanks Superpete24 for the best laugh I've had all day. Where's the "like" button?

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