Alarmist professor Barry Popkin, previously seen touting a report that even top food cop Michael Jacobson considered spurious, unveiled the results of his latest study at the International Association of Agricultural Economists conference in Australia yesterday. The news is very good for the world’s hundreds of millions of starving and malnourished people: Obesity is now the bigger problem (no pun intended).
“The world has seen a remarkable shift from what was known as ‘the receding famine pattern’ to one dominated by nutrition-related diseases,” Popkin says. “The burden of obesity is shifting from the rich to the poor not only in urban but also rural areas throughout the world.”
According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, there are more than 800 million starving or malnourished people living in the world today. Popkin claims that in contrast there are now 1.4 billion overweight people. Though it is unclear from where his statistic derives, it’s a safe bet that it’s an inflated one. As we’ve pointed out before, typical obesity measurements only take into account height and weight, the result being that people like Tom Cruise and Michael Jordan are considered overweight, and Arnold Schwarzenegger is declared obese.
Even if Popkin’s calculations stand, there’s still something seriously wrong with his picture. Are overeating and starving really comparable problems? Can they really be (sorry) weighted equally? Does a Des Moines factory worker who is ten pounds overweight have a like interest in correcting his health as a chronically undernourished Sudanese child?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you have officially lost all perspective. Welcome to the ranks of the food cops.
Popkin’s study is a classic case of projection bias (also self-serving bias), whereupon he assumes that the peculiar obsessions of an insular Western elite must hold throughout the known world. In fact, to the extent that obesity is becoming an issue in the Third World, it is a direct reaction to real problems like AIDS in South Africa and starvation in India. In such countries, historically ravaged by disease and poverty, corpulence is seen as a sign of health, not the result of indulgence.
So what is Popkin’s solution? He suggested that “food prices could be used to control people’s diets.” Translation: a fat tax, whose progenitor himself admitted, “we don’t have the evidence to know whether a tax like this would affect the American diet or not.” Why not try it out on Third World poor instead!