“It’s not exactly Big Brother,” notes a column on overblown obesity fears in Sunday’s Washington Post. “Big Mother is more like it.” Fred Barbash, the Post’s former Business and National Editor, takes a bite out of the “obesity epidemic.” Barbash discusses the 1998 redefinition of the Body Mass Index, which made millions of Americans “overweight overnight” — and mocks the “crude” way in which statisticians estimate the economic costs of obesity:

Let’s make a deal. If you would like me to pay for my body mass index, I will come back to you and find something you owe me.

Do you overwork, and suffer from workplace stress? That’s $30 billion a year, says the International Labor Organization. Hand it over.

Do you bike long distances or run marathons or lift weights or do Eskimo rolls in a kayak or go boating? Injuries from recreational activities cost $26 billion, says the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Pay up.

Barbash is “alarmed by the hysteria in the mass media” and “awed” by:

…the way in which a matter of personal responsibility has been transformed into a public crisis, whipped up by the uncritical news media, which swallow and regurgitate the crudest statistics about the most complicated of problems — such as obesity.

This suits the agenda of an extraordinary variety of interest groups and academics, who, knowing of the media’s new hunger for stories about the “crisis,” duly produce studies demonstrating how their particular thing is actually the cause of it all.