When the United States objected to the World Health Organization’s global anti-obesity strategy and its call for fat taxes, nutritional puritans threw a fit. The U.S. maintained that WHO had relied on faulty science and entirely neglected personal responsibility. Our domestic food scolds, meanwhile, charged that the Bush Administration had no leg to stand on, and was just selling out to the food industry. But last week a group of 77 developing nations joined the U.S. in denouncing the WHO report as unscientific and “not worthy of serious consideration.” The group also called WHO’s “one size fits all” diet an illusory concept.
On the New York Times op-ed page, Kelly “father of the fat tax” Brownell and Marion “Socialist Scholar” Nestle wrote that the Administration’s position was “blatant pandering” to U.S. food companies. They called it “astonishing” that anyone could object to WHO’s science. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), meanwhile, described the Administration’s stance as little more than food industry intimidation. Even U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) argued: “there is no foundation to question the scientific merit of this report. But all that happened before 77 defiant Third-world voices joined the U.S. critique.
A spokesman for the developing nations lambasted the WHO plan because it:
labels various food items as good and bad. It concludes, without any scientific evidence, that bad food is the main cause of chronic diseases. This arbitrary conclusion, apart from its shaky scientific foundation, is indeed prejudicial.
This is the exact point made by the Bush Administration, and the near-universal position of nutritionists. They prefer a “good diets” and “bad diets” distinction, where any food can be consumed in moderation. Would-be tax collectors Nestle and Brownell, however, rely on the “unscientific” good foods/bad foods dichotomy. “To lose weight, people must eat less, be more active, or both,” they write in the Times. “The first part of that prescription, of course, raises the question, ‘Eat less of what?'” The clear answer is: calories. Nevertheless, Brownell and Nestle go on to divide the plate between good foods and bad foods.
But here’s the kicker. Brownell has admitted that “no good foods, no bad foods may be true for an individual.” [see time index 1:32:25] So maybe the position taken by the United States and 77 developing nations is right after all. It’s only “from a public health point of view,” that Brownell believes “no good foods, no bad foods is a highly unproductive philosophy.” Why? “Because it makes all foods equal.” And that makes it harder for Brownell, Nestle, CSPI, and WHO to push hefty taxes on tasty snacks.
A State Department official recently labeled WHO’s fat tax “draconian,” noting that there is “a strong idea of personal responsibility and an aversion to over-regulation” among the majority of American people. Since it was first unveiled, the U.S. has been able to add some language about personal responsibility to the WHO strategy: “To encourage and foster a favorable environment for the exercise of individual responsibility for health through the adoption of lifestyles that include a healthy diet and physical activity.” This small change sent CSPI’s caloric purists over the deep end. “Obesity is not merely a matter of individual responsibility,” they raged. “Such suggestions are naive and simplistic.” In the world of nutrition activists, even mentioning personal responsibility in an international obesity report amounts to “an excuse to do nothing.”