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Reductive Redaction —

June 15, 2012

Last Monday I wrote an interminably long post responding to Alec Baldwin’s defense of Mayor Bloomberg’s Big Gulp ban.

First of all, much was lost in the word blizzard I unleashed, so I wanted to summarize my point more concisely. But, more importantly, I used some information that was not entirely appropriate for the point I was making. So, first I’d like to use more accurate information that pertains to my point, then summarize my argument briefly.

The questionable information involved my analysis of Bloomberg’s previous anti-obesity efforts, namely the menu labeling law. I quoted Dr. Thomas Friedan, who was city’s health commissioner at the time of the ban, but is now director of the CDC:

“The big picture is that New Yorkers don’t have access to calorie information,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the city’s health commissioner. “They overwhelmingly want it. Not everyone will use it, but many people will, and when they use it, it changes what they order, and that should reduce obesity and, with it, diabetes.”

Using the standards set by Frieden, I tracked down obesity and diabetes rates for New York:

As if that weren’t sad enough, a review of New York’s obesity and diabetes rates demonstrate the foolishness of Dr. Frieden’s health claims. When you compare the 2011 “F as in Fat” report (PDF) by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (which I analyzed here) to the 2008 report (PDF), the results aren’t that impressive. In 2008, New York’s adult obesity rates were estimated at 23.5%. By 2011, they were up to 24.7%. Diabetes rates showed similar trends, going from 8.0% to 8.7%. Childhood obesity rates jumped from 15.3% to 17.1%.

On the ride home that evening, I felt uneasy about the whole post and after turning it over and over in my head, I realized my mistake: “F as in Fat” tracks New York State obesity rates, not New York City.

Before I corrected the mistake, I wanted to see if I could find some stats for New York City and, after an exhaustive search, I finally found them.

Lo and behold, Bloomberg’s administration recently released a report titled “Reversing the Epidemic: The New York City Obesity Task Force Plan to Prevent and Control Obesity” (PDF), which details all of the anti-obesity efforts that Bloomberg has passed, or is wanting to pass, as well as the current statistics.


So, has Bloomberg’s plan worked? They seem to think so:

There are indications that the City’s efforts to combat childhood obesity are starting to have an impact. From 2006–2007 to 2010–2011, the prevalence of obesity among New York City public elementary and middle school students decreased by 5.5 percent, from 21.9 to 20.7 percent.

Wow, that’s… a small change to a rather narrow demographic. But can you break it down even further to continue making it sound impressive?

Decreases in obesity prevalence were most notable among children aged 5–6 years and were greater among white and Asian/Pacific Islander children than among Hispanic and black children. Among children aged 5-6 years, the reductions were greater in communities with low poverty rates than in poor communities. The obesity rate among 5- year olds decreased 16.7 percent (from 16.8% to 14.0%) in low poverty areas, compared with a decrease of 2.7 percent (from 22.2% to 21.6%) in very high poverty areas.

It sure sounds like Bloomberg’s proposals have dropped obesity rates significantly for 5-year-olds in low poverty areas, and only slightly in high poverty areas. But is this the whole picture?

While these declines are important the overall rates of obesity and overweight among NYC children remain high, particularly for children of color.

Well, if Bloomberg’s efforts are to be judged on how fat 5-year-old white kids are, then he’s doing awesome, and they’ve got the chart to prove it:

Ah, but then you notice something. Although elementary school children have seen a drop in obesity levels, the adult obesity rates continued to rise in the aftermath of Bloomberg’s crackdown. And, what’s worse, is that later on there’s a chart that gives the full picture of what’s going on with childhood obesity rates in New York City:

Although obesity rates saw a modest decline, those declines have leveled off and, in two demographics at least, have begun their return to baseline. The only group with a decline worth boasting about were the 5- and 6-year-olds. Otherwise, Bloomberg’s efforts seem to have had very little effect on the overall weight of adults and children. And this is in spite of the fact that New Yorkers are already drinking less soda.

Bloomberg’s social experimentation is not yielding the promised results, yet we’re supposed to believe that this soda ban will work. Sadly, at the most recent meeting of the New York  City Board of Health, board members jumped on the slippery slope like it Six Flags water ride, expressing enthusiasm for further dietary censorship. Now, they want to propose similar restrictions on milkshakes, coffee drinks and movie theater popcorn.

Granted, adding milkshake and coffee would at least make Bloomberg’s Big Gulp ban consistent.

But the fact remains that if Bloomberg wants to reduce obesity rates, he would have to impose what is, essentially, a rationed-state, where unhealthy foods are severely restricted, if not banned all together. It’s just a futile measure, and those of us in Fat Acceptance aren’t the only ones saying so.

For the past week, Jon Stewart has referred back to the 16 ounce cup of soda vs. the ounce of marijuana comparison, even asking London Mayor Boris Johnson to weigh in. I greatly respect Stewart (despite his non-funny fat suit segment) and have been relieved that he has taken such a prominent stance on this issue.

But if you ask Alec Baldwin, he would blame Stewart’s “addiction” for his opposition:

Many of those who cry loudest about measures like the one Bloomberg has proposed are probably sick, too: hooked on high fat, high sodium and high sugar diets who don’t want their “drug” taken away.

Yeah, that Jon Stewart: what a fat, gluttonous bastard.

In any case, Baldwin spent an impressive amount of his soapbox encouraging people to watch the documentary Weight of the Nation, as evidence that something, anything, must be done to stop the Fatty Apocalypse.

In response to Baldwin’s support for WotN, I stumbled across this nugget that I want to resurrect in this shorter post so that nobody misses it. Whenever somebody quotes Weight of the Nation, be sure to keep this in mind:

In my opinion, the most revealing fact about WotN is that the CDC and NIH (in collaboration with HBO, the Institutes of Medicine, Kaiser Permanente, and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation) decided that in order to drive their health message home, they didn’t want to enlist them help of an acclaimed health or science documentarian.

After all, it’s oh-so-predictable to choose a director with a proven history of whittling down hundreds of hours of footage into a coherent and accurate health message. Sure, an experienced science documentary director might accurately represent the intricate socio-political and personal causes for the modest rise, and current decade-long stability, of obesity rates, but what’s the fun in that?

No, this auspicious collection of public health organizations took the bold move of bringing in Dan Chaykin, a director whose only previous work had been adult entertainment, including Porn 101Pornucopia: Going Down in the ValleyKatie Morgan’s Sex QuizKatie Morgan’s Sex Tips: Questions, Anyone?Katie Morgan’s Sex Tips 2: Any More Questions?Katie Morgan on Sex ToysKatie on Demand, Katie Morgan: A Porn Star Revealed.

After all, why would you want a seasoned documentarian when you can enlist the foremost expert on Katie Morgan’s sexy time?

After discovering this fact, I suddenly realized what I had been watching for all those 278 minutes: fat panic porn, pure and simple.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. vesta44 permalink
    June 15, 2012 12:45 pm

    Looks to me like they’ve started the kids in NYC off on yo-yo dieting and that’s why they’re looking at even more draconian restrictions to what’s going to be “allowed” to be eaten and drunk in NYC. What a recipe for eating disorder city – NYC will have it if they manage to pass all those “programs” Bloomberg wants and Alec Baldwin thinks are so “great” (and the way AB’s weight has yo-yoed, you’d think he’d know better).

    • June 15, 2012 4:31 pm

      That’s what the Weight Loss Industry is hoping, vesta.


  2. Duckie Graham permalink
    June 15, 2012 1:31 pm

    I’m personally looking forward to underground speakeasy-esque soda fountains.

  3. June 19, 2012 9:04 am

    Look for soda to now be seen as the forbidden fruit.

    And drinking rates of it to GO UP. Just like Prohibition increased alcoholism.

    The powers that be don’t want the fat profit gravy train to end.

    They’ll never take HFCS out of food, or ask why MSG is being poured into everything

    They also get more taxes, the more cups of soda that are sold. Win Win for them.

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