Morton Kondracke is known for possessing an agile mind and a quick wit. But in recommending policies to fight obesity (“Congress Should Tax Fat and Sugar,” Dec. 4), he’s let his brain go to mush. To justify his endorsement of “Twinkie taxes,” Kondracke resorted to repeating two hopelessly flawed statistics, both of which have become the stuff of urban legend.

The New England Journal of Medicine writes that overweight and obesity do not, in fact, cause 300,000 U.S. deaths each year. The journal calls this number “by no means well established” and “derived from weak or incomplete data.” In order to claim such a large death toll, every death of a plus-sized American must be attributed to his or her excess weight – even if the person perished in a car accident.

And notwithstanding the surgeon general’s recent exaggerations, Americans’ love-handles do not carry an annual $117 billion price tag. This canard originated in a 1998 study that used an exceedingly broad definition of obesity, mistakingly including the health care costs of more than 10 million Americans who weren’t obese at all. The study’s authors also admitted that they unintentionally double- and even triple-counted some costs.

Kondracke incorrectly states that the Center for Consumer Freedom is a “front group” for the National Restaurant Association. The two organizations have complementary goals but are otherwise unrelated.

To learn more about how obesity fears are out of proportion with reality, readers are invited to visit