Friday, June 30, 2006

Wolfing Down the Fast Food

In today's NY Sun columnist Andrew Wolf continues his attack on the those who believe that we need to do something drastic about what our kids eat. Initially he had ridiculed the efforts of former president Clinton to eliminate soft drinks from our schools, and now he takes aim at Joel Rivera's proposal to use zoning as a tool to restrict the number of neighborhood fast food outlets.

What's interesting in the Wolf piece is his skepticism about the entire issue of childhood obesity. As he says about the Rivera proposal, "This seems to be strong medicine for a disease that I'm not sure really exists. There is precious little evidence of any long term health danger posed by this 'epidemic' either to children or to adults."

Wolf opines that although Americans are getting fatter they are still living longer. "Nor is there any evidence that attempts to manipulate portions of the diets of children will really result in weight loss." This is all very provocative but also useful, because what Wolf is arguing is subject to rigorous scientific evaluation.

He also argues that all of this diet restriction "hysteria" will have harmful repercussions, "but it won't be a glut of fat children. Rather we will see an epidemic of eating disorders, similar to what we have seen among young women in recent years."

The reason? It's because we are supposedly taking a pleasurable activity and investing it with "anxiety and alarm." Here Wolf's argument devolves into the hysteria that he criticizes in others. Not only that he has created the "restrictive diet" strawman that is not central to the thrust of the anti obesity effort aimed at children.

Wolf cites the author of a book called "The Tyranny of Health" who critiques the efforts to "coerce children into a 'five a day' fruit and vegetable consumption..." that will rob our children of the "sensual enjoyment of eating and drinking." This is not what the opponents of fast food and its corresponding gluttony have in mind in their efforts to fight the growing obesity problem.

In questioning the existence of an obesity epidemic Wolf reminds us of the Marx Brothers' line: "Who are you going to believe, me or your own lying eyes?" But give Wolf credit for bringing this to the fore and now that he has done so we would suggest that Councilman Rivera, along with his collaborator on the Health Corps, Dr. Mehmet Oz of Columbia-Presbyterian, convene a conference in the Fall that addresses all of the various points of view on the subject.