Health Scares, Celebrity Chefs, and Clown Logic

While you were barbecuing, parade-watching, and beachcombing your way through Memorial Day weekend—and, hopefully, taking a moment to honor America’s supreme sacrificers—we were cranking up our communications engine. The long weekend brought us three new opportunities to talk to consumers through their newspaper opinion pages (of both the online and dead-tree varieties).

First The Washington Times ran our op-ed about infinitesimal cancer risks that you shouldn’t worry about—the kind that increase your one-in-a-million odds to, say, two in a million. Here are the highlights:

You’d have to drink 1,000 cans of soda every day (for life!) to reach the level of chemical exposure that causes cancer in lab-rat studies …

In order to be in any real danger from acrylamide, a person of average weight would have to eat more than 62 pounds of chips or 182 pounds of fries every day for his entire life …

It’s a common myth that eating meat raises the risk of a colon cancer diagnosis. But the single biggest study on the subject, a 2004 Harvard University project, found no link.

You get the idea. Next came the Boston Herald, whose Saturday edition included our latest op-ed snark about celebrity chefs. As you might imagine, the usual suspects received the usual pasting:

[Jamie] Oliver suggests that increasing rates of obesity are largely caused by our lack of cooking, and hopes that by dishing out school lunch himself, things will reform.

The irony is that the dishes Oliver himself offers up online aren’t necessarily going to flatten anyone’s abs. His beef stir fry tops out at 1,300 calories-plus. And let’s not get into the creamy pasta carbonara, which can approach a day’s worth of calories …

We wouldn’t want the loudmouths on cable news to make public policy decisions. And neither should we want chefs — no matter how well intentioned — to dictate food policy. They can continue teaching us how to dish up fettuccine, as long as it doesn’t come with a side of pretentiousness.

Rounding out our tour of opinion journalism is the popular Daily Caller, the online news source that features our regular column under the heading “FoodPolitik.” Our latest contribution, published yesterday, tackles the silliness of blaming a certain cartoon fast-food mascot for making children gain weight:

Barely a week goes by without a new study “linking” something different to obesity. Recent research has blamed the following for contributing to the obesity epidemic: playing video games, fruit juice, caesarian sections, automobile use, snacks, baby bottles, eating breakfast, keeping the lights on, food eaten during pregnancy, pesticides, socioeconomic status, mothers’ full-time employment, depression, family violence, social relationships, school lunches, indoor heating, and capitalism.

There’s even a study that says simply seeing overweight people can cause weight gain. Kleenex and fax machines haven’t been linked to obesity yet, but give today’s “public health” movement a few years.

What’s the lesson here? First, there’s a lot of junk science masquerading as the real deal. And second, there’s not a lot the government can do to fight obesity. It’s up to individuals.

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