Oh, and your book sucks, too

Dear Freakonomics Dudes,

This:

The prevalence of obesity rose 37 percent between 1998 and 2006, and medical costs climbed to about 9.1 percent of all U.S. medical costs, the researchers said.

in addition to being a syntactic nightmare, does not equal this:

9.1 percent of all health-care costs are the result of eating and drinking too much

(Emphasis added.)

Y’all like to play with numbers and statistics and pretend that you are being delightfully subversive when really you don’t know causation from correlation. Here’s the thing: fat is a characteristic. Eating and drinking (any amount) are behaviors.

Also, fat people already pay taxes. They also face widespread discrimination from medical professionals and are routinely denied health insurance based solely on their BMI.

Also, you should really go back and take a class in rhetoric, because your headline, “Who’s Ready for a Fat Tax?” would only be appropriate if your audience consisted only of thin people, or, I suppose, if fat people didn’t know how to read.

Fat tax my inbetweenie ass. Fat people already pay a tax for their bodies: it’s called self-hatred and culture-wide scapegoating. Fuck you and the tiny horse you rode in on.

Sincerely,

Sweet Machine

156 thoughts on “Oh, and your book sucks, too

  1. Clearly an aging population and people living longer have NOTHING to do with rising medical costs. I’m also not sure what the other 90.1% of U.S. medical costs are, if not medical costs.

    I also think it’s funny that they note that most of the increased costs for fat people are due to prescription medications, but do not even consider that perhaps, maybe, weight gain is a side effect of many of those medications, so those on long-term medications are more likely to be overweight or obese.

    And, I’m sure this goes without saying, but I just glanced at the comments, and felt my blood pressure go up. (Which would be internet asshole related high blood pressure, not obesity-related high blood pressure.)

  2. Thanks for that! I hate that people consider them to be the be all and end all of economics. They are just so lazy with their use of statistics.

    (I’m staying away from those comments. I don’t need any blood pressure problems.)

  3. What’s the medical bill for self-hatred? For diseases relating to malnourishment through dietary restrictions? What’s the cost of diseases related to being underweight? Who cares, when those are people we like to look at?

    Smoking makes you a little thinner.

  4. Yeah, obesity accounts for 9.1% of all health care costs because the CDC says so. The same CDC that said 300,000 people were dying every year of teh fat. Until they were caught fudging the numbers, that is, and had to admit it was more like 26,000.

    What I want is for the CDC to guaranfuckingtee me that these “obesity-related health care costs” are actually directly (or even reasonably) related to obesity. Because what I think they’re probably doing (hell, I’m almost sure of it), is dredging up data on everyone who ever had a diagnosis of obesity put in their medical records. Then they add up the costs of every doctor visit and every prescription they’ve had since, and put it all under the “obesity-related” tab.

  5. The actual study that article is based on is available at http://content.healthaffairs.org/cgi/content/short/hlthaff.28.5.w822 , and it is such horrendously bad science it makes me want to scream that this kind of shite informs policy initiatives. Despite the fact that this study is relying on self-reported data on weight and height (which people NEVER underestimate), does not include any measures of diet and exercise, CANNOT EXCLUDE CHRONIC CONDITIONS THAT WOULD BOTH MAKE ONE OBESE AND UNABLE TO EXERCISE, (ahem. sorry for yelling. my blood pressure’s up. Must be the fatz pressing on my brain) and this increase is largely driven by prescription drugs (who is “at risk” for high blood pressure/cholesterol/ and needs drugs of dubious worth that confer little to no reduced risk of heart attack/stroke because they are OMGFATZ?) I just…

    Let me tell you a story. My father, who is a large man (6’3″) and also a big man (~250, give or take) was diagnosed as hypertensive under the new guidelines initiated in 2004 (about ten points lower than the old ones, under which he did not need medicating). He started taking the blood pressure medication somewhat against his better judgement, but figured what could it hurt? He found out when a year later, he was diagnosed with gout. Very common side effect of blood pressure medication for men. So in addition to the blood pressure medication, he also has gout medication, which causes him to need a lot more monitoring of his kidney and liver function, and he has to take prednisone when he has a really bad attack, which surprise! fucks with your insulin. BUT, under the reporting guidelines of this study? All these expenses are because he’s DETH FAT, not because he got put on a medication that has lowered his blood pressure a WHOPPING three points, that he should never have been put on in the first place, and acquired a whole bunch of painful comorbidities that make it harder for him to eat well and exercise.

    Oh, yeah. It’s all the fault of us Fatty McFattersons.

  6. This line made me furious:

    “The cost of treating obesity doubled over a decade, signaling the rising prevalence of excess weight and the toll it is taking on the health-care system.”

    What about the toll that the health-care system is taking on fat patients? Couldn’t rising costs be caused (at least partially) by doctors performing unnecessary tests on healthy fat people, or by pressuring their fat patients to make appointments with expensive nutritionists and dietitians so they can be told again and again what they already know?

    Every damn time I see a doctor I have to convince them that, no, I don’t need to be tested for PCOS. I’m just naturally fat and hairy, and I bleed every month like a champion. I just happen to come from a long line of fat, hairy, grape-stompin’ Sicilians.

  7. Bad science though has been used to make several bad government decisions. Sickning.

    I just hate reading about this stuff. So sick of this. The difference between causation and correlation stuff is something we teach in introductory psychology, yet it does no good for a lot of people.

  8. Sister Ann, thanks for linking in the study. I find it interesting that they explain how that “the regression-based approach … does not directly allow for apportioning spending across specific diseases or the underlying behavior that causes excess weight (that is, poor diet and inactivity).” Or maybe having a family history of diabetes, which, ahem can cause weight gain? Or PCOS, which can cause weight gain — and infertility problems, which are expensive to treat?

    (As an aside, I wonder if the lowering of the type 2 diabetes diagnosis and new “prediabetes” label might reduce how much weight tends to be gained before diagnosis…)

  9. @living400lbs – or bariatric surgery and complications, which can be shockingly expensive; one of my mom’s friends did it and had months of infection and a couple repeat hospitalizations–realizing that I myself here am starting to commit a sin against stats, “the plural of anecdote is not data” – but it does not take very many hospitalizations to cost $20, $30K, and hey presto! divide one SHOCKINGLY expensive medical event over a population and the average rises because of that outlier! I’d be really, really interested in seeing what the median expenditure was, because I have the feeling if that had supported their data we’d be seeing it too…

  10. Thanks for this. These guys sent me into something of a tailspin this morning, I was already feeling weak and feeble due to the extreme heat wave we’re having out here and my (PRE FATTY ACQUIRED) asthma is acting up. Actually I put on 100 lbs from a combination of asthma meds, bcps, and antidepressants in my early 20s, it’s a large part of why I am the fatty I am today.

    I just keep trying to remind myself, these freakanomics fuckheads are the ones who attribute lower crime rate to less poor women having babies since Roe V. Wade. Eeek.

  11. Thanks for the link to the original, sister ann … and good ghod, that’s sloppy. My favorite bits: they admit, in plain print, that the ’98 set is half that of ’06 and the data are unstable. And they used them anyway!

    The tables also look to me to indicate that – IF one accepts their data as valid, which I think is a mighty big IF – the costs attributable to obesity-related conditions relative to their ‘normal’ controls … decreased between ’98 and ’06 … at a time when, according to them, the total numbers of those classed as obese greatly increased.

    Or am I reading that wrong?

  12. Aren’t the Freakonomics jerks the ones who are always backtracking and claiming that they’re “only” reporting what they see?

    This kind of thinking drives me nuts. Most of my health problems – at least the expensive ones – have been related to PCOS. What does PCOS do?

    Well, you know, but the Freakonomics folks such as hell don’t.

  13. There’s also the issue of doctor’s treating borderline conditions in larger people but not smaller people. I’ve had a number of elevated blood pressure readings in the doctor’s office, since I was a teenager, but it’s always been attributed to my panic disorder and to white coat hypertension (which is right; I monitor at home and it’s always within normal range). I have a friend who is significantly larger than I am, she had ONE high blood pressure reading, and her doctor was about to diagnose her with high blood pressure put her on medication for it. She was told, when she mentioned how stressed out she was, that, “Even if a speeding train was coming at you, your blood pressure shouldn’t go up.”

    I have no doubt that obese people are more often put on medications for a high blood pressure reading or a high blood glucose reading than thinner people. I also wouldn’t doubt for a moment that fat people, particularly fat women, are more often put on antidepressent medication, since there is often the assumption that, if somebody is fat, they MUST have emotional problems. I’ve had several fat friends who were offered SSRIs by their GP because they “seemed upset” at a doctor’s appointment. I know it happens to thin women, too, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if it happened more to fat women.

  14. Considering the Freakonomics drivel in light of the current healthcare debate, I can’t help but remember that I’ve never heard a single story where someone was able to keep their insurance because they were thin despite their chronic, “uninsurable” illness. And yet bullshit studies like this roll on.

  15. Hmmm, I’ve been hearing a lot about a “fat tax” lately but mostly as a tax on “bad” food. I saw the articles and wanted to get offended but then shrugged when I remembered how much healthier I eat than my 6’2″ 140 pound fiance. He and all of those like him would be the type of person to suffer under such a tax. I’d welcome a tax on fried foods and HFCS foods just as I’m happy when taxes on cigarettes and alcohol are raised. (I drink often btw!) Mostly just because these are opt-in things, if you don’t want to pay the tax it is fairly easy to avoid them and substitute other things. Also, tipping the balance to make unhealthy food closer to the cost of actual healthy food so that processed crap is less of a slam-dunk value-wise might make many of us healthier (but probably few/none of us thinner). This will never happen, hooray for the food lobby.

    I can’t tell from the article, do they wish to tax fat bodies or the things that they believe create fat bodies?

  16. She was told, when she mentioned how stressed out she was, that, “Even if a speeding train was coming at you, your blood pressure shouldn’t go up.”

    My thin father had horribly high cholesterol, but no doctor actually mentioned it until he had a massive heart attach – at 48. Hey, he was thin (and a stress puppy, and a smoker) so nobody thought it was an issue. I developed a blood pressure issue (very common with PCOS – who knew?) and was subjected to every test you can imagine. The doctor was almost angry that I didnt’ have any plaque in my arteries and did fine in the stress test, the sleep study, etc. It was if he was hoping I’d keep over. When all the results came in, my endocrinologist said he had totally over-reacted.

  17. So wait, are they going to start charging higher license fees for St. Bernards than Chihuahuas? Because that makes about as much sense as a fat tax. :P

  18. Y’all like to play with numbers and statistics and pretend that you are being delightfully subversive when really you don’t know causation from correlation.

    Brilliant all over, but especially this, which is my hobgoblin as a science writer. When I’m benign ruler of the universe, nobody who calls themselves any kind of writer will be allowed to use a percent symbol or otherwise quote “statistics” without taking a basic course on their interpretation. Not even to say “Today’s Sale: 50% Off.” This alone would be a huge boon to FA in the media.

  19. All I can do is second what Natale said.
    ‘Cause I’m so fucking pissed off right now I could scream!
    But that would upset my kids.

  20. @eucritta and molly: his actual log-likelihood and multiple regression equations are in the appendix. I wanted to scream when I saw them and thought how much taxpayer money got pissed away on that. Multicollinearity FTMFL! How about let’s use some techniques that are actually appropriate to the data?

    oh, and @Lori – you might find it interesting that while being underweight and being poor seem to have pretty much as strong an effect on inpatient expenditures as being overweight, according to his numbers you are MUCH less likely to be paying prescription expenditures if you are underweight. Although being female, not poor and having insurance still make you more likely to be spending outpatient money.

    also, his equations have R-squareds of less than 0.1 for almost all of them–the closer to 1 R-squared is, the more of the variation in your data it explains. Which means this explanation holds about as much water as a broken teacup.

  21. @sister ann but they say right in the study that “Although pharmaceutical, medical, and surgical interventions to treat obesity are available, these treatments remain rare. As a result, the costs attributable to obesity are almost entirely a result of costs generated from treating the diseases that obesity promotes.”

    Because of course money spent on WW and Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem and lost wages and productivity from DIETING don’t count in their world.

  22. Hmm… other explanations for increasing health costs (just off the top of my head)

    1/ More premmie babies surviving. 20 years ago if a baby was born at 28 weeks gestation, it would probably die. Today it has a good chance of surviving thanks to intensive neonatal care that can easily cost several hundred thousand dollars. In addition it will probably need multiple surgeries during its first five years of life. None of this is cheap.

    2/ More people surviving life threatening illnesses for longer. Cancer is no longer an immediate death threat. Depending on the type of cancer, at what stage it has developed, etc, it is now not unusual for people to survive years, even decades – rather than dying off quickly and cheaply in a matter of months.

    3/ Spiralling insurance costs for medical practitioners which are eventually passed onto the patients.

    4/ More people surviving traumatic events – there are tens of thousands of soldiers in America alone living with permanent disabilities, missing limbs, etc that require ongoing treatment – in the ‘good old days’ most would have died on the battlefield. Ditto all those quadriplegics and paraplegics who have survived car accidents, etc.

    I’m sure there are other explanations aside from my BIG FAT BEHIND.

  23. Can I also say how at least one of the Freakonomics guys also contributed to some crap-o research of women in street prostitution in Chicago? It was horrible. My google skills are not strong tonight, but yeah. Sexist crap study that makes it seem that most of the women don’t use pimps (almost all other research on Chicago says otherwise) and bunches of other BS. Also on their NYT blog they were into talking about the economics of women’s bodies vis a vis the sex trade in awe-inspiringly sexist terms.

    In short: Turdblossoms, the lot of them.

  24. I just want to point out that the suggested ‘fat tax’ is on certain kinds of food *not* people.

  25. Steven J. Leavitt is a professor of Economics at the University of Chicago. The same Economics department of University of Chicago that cheerleaded the “let’s let financial institutions whatever the hell they want” philosophy that got us into the giant clusterfuck we’re in now.

    So yeah, I’d say he’s probably wrong about a whole lot of shit.

  26. I’d welcome a tax on fried foods and HFCS foods just as I’m happy when taxes on cigarettes and alcohol are raised. (I drink often btw!) Mostly just because these are opt-in things, if you don’t want to pay the tax it is fairly easy to avoid them and substitute other things. Also, tipping the balance to make unhealthy food closer to the cost of actual healthy food so that processed crap is less of a slam-dunk value-wise might make many of us healthier (but probably few/none of us thinner). This will never happen, hooray for the food lobby

    What the fuck, x? Raising taxes on the foods that provide the most calories for the least amount of money might make you personally happy because it would FORCE those of us who can’t afford to buy less processed food to pay more regardless, but have you considered that it would FORCE those of us who can’t afford to buy less processed food to pay more regardless?

    What about people on food stamps trying to feed familes? The disabled? The elderly? And anyone else who doesn’t have the income required to be choosy about food? There’s nothing “opt-in” about getting enough calories to survive. I’ll tell you what’s “healthier” than eating foods that aren’t fried and don’t contain HFCS (and what an arbitrary selection for “unhealthy”, btw): EATING SUFFICIENT FOOD AT ALL. How the fuck you can compare FOOD to alcohol or cigarettes is beyond me. Human beings do not actually require alcohol or nicotine TO SURVIVE.

    There are entire categories of people in the world who aren’t “you” or “your fiance”, you know. I’d invite you to consider them when you wholeheartedly endorse taxes on foods that are overwhelingly eaten by people who are *shudder* poor and not you.

  27. I should say “people with disabilities” and “elderly people”. My apologies, I clearly should not post at 4am.

  28. The Freakonomics guys, One squishy economist and one journalist who doesn’t have the faintest grasp of statistics or what it takes to make them valid. My little finger knows more about statistics than the guy who writes this crap.

    Sometimes I wonder why I don’t have a bestselling book, and then I remember it’s because I’m not willing to completely compromise my principles for the sake of sensational headlines.

  29. I just want to point out that the suggested ‘fat tax’ is on certain kinds of food *not* people.

    That’s true, guppy, but the logic espoused by the Freakonomics blogger is about fat people, not food. It’s the same old same old about how if we didn’t eat baby donuts and puppy nachos all day, we wouldn’t be Fatty McFattersons. We’re just too stupid to know that you’re supposed to eat apples instead of mainlining bacon, and therefore our supposedly favorite foods should be taxed to save us from ourselves.

  30. again and again and again: those statistics never take into account the old chicken and egg thing

    (someone said it earlier: what if it’s a health condition that keeps you from exercising? or – what if it’s medication for any number of conditions that is responsible for weight gain that wouldn’t be there otherwise?)

    i keep being reminded how lucky our family is with our doctor…

  31. I second what Caitlin said. I was just about to post something saying just about the same thing in response to x’s comment. I am one of those food stamp parents and it is fucking EXPENSIVE as shit to buy decent food. It is extremely difficult to avoid HFCS – it’s in fucking EVERYTHING. If someone wants to supply me with all organic food, by all means. I do my best to make sure my kids eat as much organic as possible, especially the 1 year old, but it is rare that I can afford to do that.

  32. I’m not a fan of “sin taxes” in general. As a non-smoker, I think it’s absurd how highly we tax cigarettes. If something is legal, then I really don’t think we have the right to decide that, since we don’t like it, we are going to tax it at ridiculously high rates. Using taxes to discourage people from smoking or drinking soda just seems silly to me. And, like many taxes, “sin taxes” seem to be just another way to have the poor pay more than their fair share of the tax burden.

  33. Here’s the thing about healthcare, imo: the best things for the healthcare industry, economically, are completely unethical. To REALLY cut health costs, you’d have to kill all the old and sick people. Sure, insurance would drop in cost, but you’d be KILLING OLD AND SICK PEOPLE.

    So when people start bringing up shit like this, I throw my favorite conversation-ender at them. “All people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.”

  34. To clarify, I’m not anti-tax. I’m very much pro-tax, and pro-progressive income taxation. I’m just opposed to increasing taxes that disproportionately affect the poor.

  35. Thanks for this. I am so dispirited by the anti-fat vitriol that’s increased as the health care debate has heated up. Though I am so, so, so in favor of universal health care in the US, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was afraid of how much worse we’ll be treated socially. If everyone gets health care, they can not only hate us for how we look, but because we’re (supposedly) costing them money.

  36. As a non-smoker, I think it’s absurd how highly we tax cigarettes. If something is legal, then I really don’t think we have the right to decide that, since we don’t like it, we are going to tax it at ridiculously high rates. Using taxes to discourage people from smoking or drinking soda just seems silly to me.

    I totally hear you on these taxes disproportionately affecting the poor, but I’m actually in favor of obscene cigarette taxes — and I DO smoke. Some ridiculously high percentage of smokers — like over 90% — start before the age of 18. And Cig taxes actually do make the number of kids who smoke drop substantially. (I suspect that if I’d had to cough up $10 a pack instead of $1.75 when I was a teenager, I wouldn’t be an addict today.) And from what I understand, cost is the only really effective deterrent — all the information in the world isn’t going to make teenagers fully believe they’re not invincible. I hate paying that much, and if I had to choose between buying cigarettes and eating or paying bills, I would be even more furious. (It’s really easy to say, “Well, so you quit, win-win,” but as the kind of addict who WILL pay $10 for a pack of cigs — even while I actually do want to quit — I certainly don’t like the thought of people being forced into it.) But for me, the thought of way fewer kids starting in the first place makes me think those taxes are more good than bad. Very, very few things make me want to return to high school, but if I could go back and convince myself not to start smoking? I would do that in a heartbeat.

  37. @Lori – you’re correct about fat people being more likely to be treated for borderline conditions, because it’s right there in the prescribing protocols. Blood pressure, for instance, will say “if you have blood pressure at X level AND one other risk factor, prescribe medication”. Obesity is one of those listed risk factors, along with smoking and age. I don’t know what research backs this up, though!

    In Australia, we have no tax on relatively unprocessed food (milk, fruit, vegetables, bread, meat, yoghurt, cereal, etc.) and the GST applies to everything else – so fast food, prepackaged meals, chocolate and most non-food goods apart from medications, sunscreens and condoms. I thought it was a neat way to keep the cost of healthy food down rather than have a sin tax as such.

  38. @lilacsigil – But because the GST affects so many items, it will always always always impact far more upon people of lower economic backgrounds than those of higher economic backgrounds.

  39. Fat people already pay a tax for their bodies: it’s called self-hatred and culture-wide scapegoating.

    This is brillz.
    You rock my socks off, SM.

  40. Why is it that whenever the whole subject of “Damn those Fats! They are causing the rest of us Respectable Barely Eating and Never Sick Thins so much money in health care!” comes up, no one ever points out that fat folks pay for health care and taxes too? It never occurs to anyone that us fat people actually Make Money, and have to shell out the same amount (if not more!) out of every paycheck and doctor’s visit for insurance as the people that are smaller than us.

    So, if a fat person gets sick/needs meds/needs tests, are they not utilizing what THEY PAID FOR? I’m sorry, but the logic of idiots who constantly bitch about how they’re paying for all of us fatties, even the ones who are in good health, fails miserably for me. You see, the share of the money that fat people contribute toward health care is only good enough to pay for the thin folks when they need it. And my hard-working fat ass better not get sick, because all that money that comes out of every single check? That belongs to the All- Righteous Low-End BMI Overlords of the World! Eff my life!

    I have to add, no offense to the unemployed or uninsured- I feel that everyone deserves to have proper healthcare, regardless of status. It just bugs me to no end that everyone wants to blame the rising costs of healthcare on fat people, and leaving it at that. That’s just plain lazy to me.

  41. Back to those blood pressure stories: a few years ago, I had a migraine (my first in 10+ years), the prodrome of which caused me to lose vision on one side, which in turn caused me to walk into a bunch of stuff on that side, which struck me as a pretty bad sign. I was on campus, and kind of panicked. I went straight to the student health clinic, asked to see a doctor, and when told I would have to wait (just a few minutes), I burst into tears.

    My mother had a stroke in her late 40s, you see — and though I had no other neurological symptoms, I was briefly sure that it was happening to me in my mid 20s. (I was also about two weeks from having a *major* relapse of an anxiety disorder, which no doubt contributed to my stress. I didn’t think so at the time, of course, so dismissed it when the nurse advised me to check in with the counseling center too.) To be clear, this kind of thing was way out of character for me.

    As is standard at my campus health clinic, the nurse took my blood pressure and temperature, and reassured me that I was probably fine. A doctor then saw me, did a quick neuro check, and told me that I was fine. I left the clinic, and sat down on the lawn to call my sister. As I was dialling, I kid you not, the doctor came out of the building and said, “I just noticed that your blood pressure was up! Cut back on the salt and get it rechecked in a few weeks.”

    My blood pressure is usually low normal. If I were half my size, would that doctor have figured out that my blood pressure was up not because I’m a big fat salt fiend, but because I was sobbing and terrified that I was having a stroke? I’ve never quite forgiven that. Never mind the confidentiality issues involved in having a doctor chase you out of a clinic to dispense such advice. (The nurse, bless her heart, came after him, and very kindly told me to go home, take some Advil before the pain really kicked in, and get some sleep.)

  42. I second what Caitlin said. I was just about to post something saying just about the same thing in response to x’s comment. I am one of those food stamp parents and it is fucking EXPENSIVE as shit to buy decent food. It is extremely difficult to avoid HFCS – it’s in fucking EVERYTHING. If someone wants to supply me with all organic food, by all means. I do my best to make sure my kids eat as much organic as possible, especially the 1 year old, but it is rare that I can afford to do that.

    Gazillionthed. Plus, you know, HFCS is SUGAR, plain and simple, and sugar is not “bad” for people. It is FOOD. Fried foods are also really just FOODS (though flash-dehydrated at high temperatures, with delicious results).

  43. That article @sister ann linked to is stuck in my craw. It’s a regular jamboree of unjustifiable conflations. The correlational shenanigans are utterly rookie. Moreover, it looks like they define the “medical cost of obesity” (AKA the “burden of obesity”) to be all of the costs obese people pay for health care.

    So either I am reading that wrong or they really are hand-wringing over the greedy, greedy fatties eating up all of the medical care by — like — possibly getting pap smears and stuff.

  44. I love, love, love, participating in a dialogue with all you smart shaplies. ‘Tis divine.

    When I read this . . . “Even if a speeding train was coming at you, your blood pressure shouldn’t go up.”
    . . . I thought of my dear 72 year-old dad who is thin and was TRAINING FOR A FUCKING MARATHON when his blood pressure went up and he had to get an emergency triple-bypass heart surgery. It was likely the training that stressed him enough to show symptoms, which indicated that his arteries were all stopped up with plaque.

    Plus, this stupid statement indicates that the physician knew nothing about the effects of anxiety. When people have panic attacks, they FEEL LIKE THEY ARE HAVING HEART ATTACKS. Cripes!

    I am so sick of IDIOT doctors that I could vomit. Blurp . . . there I go . . .

  45. I would guess that most high schoolers don’t learn about correlation and causation. A minority go to university and I’m sure not everyone learns about it there. And it’s easy to forget when you’ve heard something to be true your entire life. So sadly, people can hear two facts such as, “Obesity has gone up in the last 30 years,” and “The incidence of chronic diseases has gone up” and think it makes sense that one would cause the other. It couldn’t possibly be something like diet. But wait, according to “common knowledge”, bad diet causes obesity so obese people must be prone to chronic diseases. So many assumptions.
    There must’ve been studies that show obese people are more likely to get chronic illnesses like diabetes? I wonder where this “common knowledge” that I heard on the news while growing up came from. Flawed studies?

  46. Lyndsay, that might be true about high school students. But it should not be true of anyone who gets a bachelor’s degree in economics. ANYONE.

  47. volcanista, definitely not for the economists but for anyone commenting on the blog. I especially don’t expect them to doubt what economists are saying when they’re only confirming what the commenters have heard their whole lives.

  48. I went apeshit in a comment on DKos yesterday over that bullshit 1998-2006 stat yesterday getting trotted out by ABC News again.

    Just once I want to see that statistic mentioned alongside the explanation that they CHANGED THE FUCKING DEFINITIONS OF OVERWEIGHT AND OBESITY IN 1998 SO OF COURSE THE GODDAMNED RATES WENT UP AFTERWARD.

    They don’t have to word it precisely like that of course.

    Any time you hear that the rate or the percentage went up, it’s probably something to take with a grain of salt. Rates and percentages are really damned easy to skew to say what you want them to say, and in this case, because they moved millions of people into the overweight and obese categories that year without anyone gaining an actual pound to make it happen, it’s dangerously misleading.

    I’d love to see someone take the old BMI standards and look at height and weight records since 1998 and see if relative to the data from before 98, there’s been an actual increase or not.

    *hulksmashes*

    DRST

  49. So I went back and read TFA that TFA was referring to and the only tax they’re referring to is a tax on sugar water. You might be poor and on food stamps but no one is forcing you to drink that. Double the cost of the nasty stuff with taxes, please.

  50. well to the taxing of food debate. (I’m know I’m going to get flamed for posting this)

    You have to understand that its USA that has this weird gap between cheap junk food and non-processed food and not really other places

    Here in Japan minimum wage is around 7 USD an hour.

    For 2 USD you could get 2 bruised apples out of a clearance bin, 6 tiny 2 inch diameter potatoes on clearance, OR 18 oreo cookies that expire this week and have 3 prices marked down to that. BOTH junk food and non-processed food are really expensive and people here in japan spend about double what USA people spend out of each paycheck on food. (USA is about 9% and Japan I believe is around 19%)

    I don’t think USA should tax unhealthy cheap processed food. I heard that what is really going on is that the government is subsidizing the corn and sugar industries as it is. So the USA govt should instead throw its money at turnip and leek farmers so that processed food prices even out to what the rest of the world is paying.

    http://gojapan.about.com/od/dailylifeinjapan/a/costlivingtokyo.htm and I don’t even live in tokyo…..my neighbors have outhouses and this is still about what I’m paying.

  51. @ Kate –

    I work in a state tobacco control program and the current research looks like for every $1 increase in a tobacco tax, 10% fewer <18 year-olds start smoking.

  52. Weren’t these the same chowder-for-brains who once said gastric bypass was the “easy way out” for fatties? In fact, I might have about read that on SP, if memory serves.

    Right now I’m not in the mood for their shenanigans, so I’ll pass on reading this story. But good gods, these people need to be stripped of their bank accounts and credit cards for a year, put up in an apartment with shitty-ass cooking facilities, forced to work a job where they have to punch a clock, get half an hour for lunch and have to wait in line for the microwave, and commute an hour each way. Then we’ll see if they want to tax the ten-for-a-buck frozen dinners and Happy Meals all that much.

  53. Brilliant, Meowser!

    I’ve got someone in a club I’m in talking about how requiring (a not actually required) $35 membership “isn’t a barrier for anyone” which he backpedaled when confronted to “anyone with a normal income” *headdesk* I’d like to apply this plan to him, frankly, with a nice dose of medial/dental bills added on, and then see what he thinks.

  54. Sweet Machine, your anger is misdirected – the guy making this claim is the journalist, not the economist/statistician, half of the duo. It’s no wonder he doesn’t really get it. I don’t see any evidence that the economist guy, Levitt, is on board with this.

  55. I’m not sure we’re looking at this the right way – the problem is not that good food is too pricey but that bad food is too cheap. I don’t see a feasible way to make good food cost less, but if we make bad food cost more, it at least becomes a level playing field. The only reason food stamp recipients are paid so little right now is that they can survive on 10 for $10 Banquet TV dinners and generic soda. If that stuff cost more, benefits would be raised too, or at least that’s what we should be working towards. Instead of perpetuating a system where the poor eat crap and the rich eat organic.

    I’m also of the opinion that HFCS is not a food. It’s an industrial chemical like potassium benzoate or BHA/BHT. It shouldn’t be considered on the same level as natural sugar or natural fat. Nothing wrong with making a chemical a villain.

  56. Eating and drinking (any amount) are behaviors.

    Behaviours necessary to existence. As for people like x, no one is stopping you from sending the government more of your money for nothing, if you so badly feel like it. Your ‘I’m a good fatty act’, is bull.
    Can’t pay, won’t pay

    Fuck you and the tiny horse you rode in on.

  57. Hey, if we’re just now talking about taxing fat people, does that mean I can get all the money I paid in taxes before that back? Did the federal and state governments just assume that I was thin and I forgot to check a boxed marked fat on some form that would have exempted me from taxes? “Fat tax” my ass, I’ve been paying taxes since I was 18! Longer if you count sales taxes!

    I’m already paying too many taxes, in that I feel people under the federal poverty level should be 100% tax exempt (sales taxes, gas taxes, and property taxes included). You want to do something about me eating crap food and being fat, stop smacking my wallet around when I go to buy basic necessities and I’ll be able to afford to eat better.

    Economists have these bizarre cushy jobs where they don’t have to confront any of the economic realities facing real people. It’s all a mental exercise to them, sort of like masturbating to the idea of a Utopian financial system they created. And I know now, it’s the journalist of the pair who popped off about this, but really, he’s only using the economist’s logic fail to base his bullshit off of.

  58. Oh, by the way, could some Shapelings armed with more science than my tired brain could cough up please go be smart at the commentariat at Pandagon. Apparently links to actual scientific studies about how diets don’t work aren’t as important as anecdata about how they lost weight so everyone can! Science about set points and the dangers of weight cycling would be welcome. I’m too absolutely brain fried to make smart words at them.

  59. Oh dear god, yes, do not under any circumstances read the comments on the original article.

    Dear lord. Am I naive to say I’d expect better of NYT readers? Sickening.

  60. Please allow me to vent the following medical anecdote shared by my mom.

    Doctor: “You know, atiton’s mom, given all the numbers here, I’d almost be tempted to call you entirely healthy if it weren’t that you were obese.”

    Oh, it makes my blood boil.

  61. Godless, I tried, but the one you’re talking to is too self-righteous to pay attention to the hysterical fatties.

  62. @ailbhe: Smoking makes you a little thinner.

    I’ll testify, since quitting 3 1/2 weeks ago I’ve put on about 12-15 lbs. But obviously my fat(ter) ass is sicker than when I was sucking down the tar & nicotine, right?

  63. Sweet Machine, your anger is misdirected – the guy making this claim is the journalist, not the economist/statistician, half of the duo. It’s no wonder he doesn’t really get it. I don’t see any evidence that the economist guy, Levitt, is on board with this.

    Yeah, but as co-authors of the book and the blog, they’re both assumed to have authority on economic matters now — and pretty much assumed to be able to speak for each other, if they don’t explicitly disagree. If Marianne said something in public that I found outrageously ill-informed — or if FJ, SM or AS did here — I’d feel the need to counter it, because my name is attached to all of those people in such a way that it’s reasonable to assume that we’re on the same page unless we tell you we’re not. Levitt and Dubner sell themselves as a package deal — hence SM addressing this to the “Freakonomics Dudes” instead of Dubner. If Levitt thinks Dubner’s fucking up econ 101, he needs to say so, because the natural default assumption is that he condones what his co-author says.

  64. Doctor: “You know, atiton’s mom, given all the numbers here, I’d almost be tempted to call you entirely healthy if it weren’t that you were obese.”

    Just . . . wow.

    I myself would have been tempted to throw a dictionary at his head while scrawling VOID across his medical school diploma.

  65. I’ll testify, since quitting 3 1/2 weeks ago I’ve put on about 12-15 lbs. But obviously my fat(ter) ass is sicker than when I was sucking down the tar & nicotine, right?

    I know everybody has stories like this, but when my quite thin sister quit smoking (and she’s been smoking over a pack a day), she gained about 15 pounds. Even though she was still within the “ideal” weight range, she was berated by her doctor for it. Her doctor had always been very gentle in encouraging her to quit smoking, if she mentioned it at all, but was not at all polite or gentle about criticizing her weight gain after quitting.

  66. Avoiding comments. High blood pressure already runs in (the thin side of) my family.

    Something else, sort of wrong here…I keep getting cards in the mail from the vet telling me my dog is due for her annual stuff. I have been avoiding making an appointment because last time I went she kept telling me my dog needed to lose weight.

  67. Sweet Machine, your anger is misdirected – the guy making this claim is the journalist, not the economist/statistician, half of the duo. It’s no wonder he doesn’t really get it. I don’t see any evidence that the economist guy, Levitt, is on board with this.

    In addition to what Kate said about the tacit agreement of his cowriter, it is absolutely RIDICULOUS that anyone should write about economics, statistics, or scientific studies without the most basic grasp of analysis. That’s what we’re talking about here.

    Saying that the guy is “not an economist/statistician” is NO EXCUSE for him to go around blabbering stupid shit on the intertrons. (And I actually mean that.) Every university offers basic classes in statistics, and if he had handed this article to me when I was a TA in his stats 101 class I would have written, in big red letters CORRELATION IS NOT CAUSATION -50.

    If he’s going to write about something he could at least have the common courtesy to learn as much about it as my university expected ART and ENGLISH majors to learn in order to graduate.

  68. Also, puppy nachos? That’s a new one. I’ll tell my dog to make sure she stays under the bed so that the Fatty Mc Fat Fats living in my apartment don’t buy some Tostitoes and go to town on her!

  69. Hi! Good comment about the manipulation of statistics. I just had a dizzying trip through the maze of convoluted age and BMI based evaluations for kids. According to the CDC my 8 year old daughter is obese. Shocking since I don’t think she’s even overweight. If she was 10 and the exact same height and weight she’d just be a little overweight (or possibly more muscular than average). Since she’s tall for her age (as tall as a 10 year old and in the 75th percentile for her age) I wonder how many of the purported obese children the media harps on are tall for their age and perfectly healthy.

  70. Yeah, correlation /= causation isn’t just a statistics thing. It’s a logical fallacy, and I’ve never taught a composition class where I didn’t discuss it when we were talking about argumentation. It’s something that journalists, at least, should be well aware of.

  71. Heaven forbid they look to toxins and harmful by-products in our food, water, and air as possible causes of increased health care costs.

    Or unsafe work environments.
    Or people working themselves to death to keep a roof over their heads.
    Or insurance companies making it impossible for people to get preventative care.
    Or poverty.
    Or genetics.

  72. @lilacsigil Thanks for that comment on prescribing protocols. I knew that in the presence of other ‘risk factors’ they had more leeway, but it never quite struck me before how important that is in discussions of cost. If you lower the line for what’s considered hypertension and lower the line for what constitutes obesity, and create a whole new category of ‘pre-diabetes’, you suddenly make thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of people eligible to buy a prescription. Talk about opening up a market!

    As someone interested in marketing, I have to say, It’s really a brilliant strategy for increasing your drug’s market share.

    As a tax payer, insurance buyer and fat person… it absolutely creeps me out and makes me feel rather like I’m living in a Huxley novel.

  73. @ x : Jesus Christ- wtf? No, nobody is forcing anyone to drink/eat anything, but who are you to pass judgment on those of us who drink ‘sugar water?’ You need to step back and look at this from a different perspective. Your attitude is “holier than thou” and not appreciated. I gave up soda for a long time and guess what? I didn’t lose weight. Is it bad for me? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t like to live my life by judging foods as good or bad. Do I drink enough caffeine to kill a small horse? Yep. Are we sin-taxing that now, too? No? Interesting.

    @volcanista – Agreed on the fried food being delicious! : )

  74. Yeah, wtf? Where do we draw the line with that, too?

    I, personally, think that artificial sweeteners are creepy. Shall we tax the diet soda or are we going to declare that virtuous? I say tax it because it is something I, personally, do not consume. Not that I drink soda. I really don’t as a habit. I drink juice, which is similarly sugary. Since I like juice, let’s not tax it, ‘kay? Also potato chips smell farty and should be taxed because I can feel virtuous for disliking them while essentially giving up nothing of value to me. Vitamin water? Non-taxable unless it has artificial sweeteners which make my inner hippie shudder.

    I defy you to compile any set of decision rules that is more logical than the ones I propose based on my personal preferences and admittedly superstitious beliefs about artificial sweeteners. Maybe it is not all that helpful for me to apply my personal preferences to decisions about public policies that affect other people whose needs and preferences differ from mine.

  75. So I went back and read TFA that TFA was referring to and the only tax they’re referring to is a tax on sugar water. You might be poor and on food stamps but no one is forcing you to drink that. Double the cost of the nasty stuff with taxes, please.

    Don’t you get it, guys? If you’re poor and wasting your money on something that isn’t an absolutely necessity but that you really enjoy, like soda, you deserve to have that choice taken away from you by the government.

  76. if he had handed this article to me when I was a TA in his stats 101 class I would have written, in big red letters CORRELATION IS NOT CAUSATION -50.

    That’s a 50 DKP MINUS!

    Saw puppy nachos in a previous thread and also kitty cookies. I love it!

    Also, x, my husband regulates his untreated ADD with caffeine, and without caffeine both of us go into withdrawal. Guess where you get a steady supply of caffeine at a reasonable price without needing electricity, a stove, or a specialized appliance? Sometimes he uses that reasonably priced 2 liter of soda as his only caloric intake of the day because we’re too goddamn poor to afford food. Kindly go piss up a rope.

    (A 2 liter of off-brand cola= $0.65. A pound of lentils=$0.99. My suggestion is to make the lentils cheaper, not the soda more expensive, but I’m crazy like that.)

  77. @Godless Heathen – You have just said the truthiest truth so far. We had our gas shut off almost 2 months ago and let me tell you – finding food to cook in a tiny toaster or the microwave is SO HARD. We are eating like shit right now – it’s expensive and shitty. I am SO SICK of justifying how I eat because I can’t afford better. And even if I could afford “better” so fucking what? I’m a grown woman and get to choose how I treat my body. But when people can’t understand how difficult it is to eat well (and by well I mean fresh fruit and veggies rather than boxed mac & cheese or Ramen) on a VERY limited income (if one is lucky enough to even have an income), I lose my temper quickly.

  78. You have to understand that its USA that has this weird gap between cheap junk food and non-processed food and not really other places

    Erm. This seems to me to assume that … the prices in the U.S. are due to some aberration from a … presumptive normative ‘free market’ state for food prices … unaffected by history, politics, location … and no doubt a host of other factors, up to and including cultural preferences.

    And, thing is, there just isn’t.

  79. She was told, when she mentioned how stressed out she was, that, “Even if a speeding train was coming at you, your blood pressure shouldn’t go up.”

    {SIGH!} Gotta love the Soviet Industrial Medical Complex.

    Because of course money spent on WW and Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem and lost wages and productivity from DIETING don’t count in their world.

    Thou Shalt Not Blaspheme the Church of Dieting! (Praise Be to the Blessed and Holy Diet!) {/makes Church Lady face and sternly shakes right index finger}

  80. Volcanista said: Don’t you get it, guys? If you’re poor and wasting your money on something that isn’t an absolutely necessity but that you really enjoy, like soda, you deserve to have that choice taken away from you by the government.
    __
    Sadly, that’s exactly what many people believe. I used to spend time on a debate board about welfare, food stamps, and poverty in general. The “sackcloth and ashes” attitude was sickening.

  81. One of my friends on Facebook wants me to join the “Vote Yes! for Drug Testing for Food Stamp Recipients” group.

    Needless to say, poverty has never been an issue for her.

  82. Don’t you get it, guys? If you’re poor and wasting your money on something that isn’t an absolutely necessity but that you really enjoy, like soda, you deserve to have that choice taken away from you by the government.

    You know, when I was a teenager and dare I say even a college student, I kinda thought like this. Then I realize that it was because I was raised by a Catholic/Protestant household with a magical combo of Protestant work ethic and Catholic guilt. Pleasure? That’s only for people whose lives are perfect in every single way! The rest of us have to toil at self-improvement until we are righteous enough to use money for fun instead of squirreling it away.

    I want to repeat what I said upthread: this post is not actually about whether or not we should tax certain foods, though I realize that that’s what they meant by “fat tax.” Subsidies and food politics are a whole other conversation. What infuriated me about this post is that its (faulty) logic is firmly directed at fat people. Michael Pollan doesn’t piss me off for talking about how fucked up it is that we subsidize every form of corn by-product known to man. Freakonomics dudes piss me off for talking about how now that we’re all paying for fatties to go to the doctor, we’d better tax baby donuts.

  83. Yeah, the New Puritanism is getting really, really old. I feel kind of guilty every time I use the fact that I do eat mostly fruit and veg and lean meat, because that’s what I LIKE and am fortunate enough to be able to afford, to spike the guns of the “well if you were Good and Pure Enough You Too Could Be Blessed” crowd. Because honestly, what someone puts in their body is none of my damn business. I don’t know them, I don’t get to decide if they’ve been “good enough” to deserve an “indulgence.” I don’t know what choices they’re making.

    The thing is, NOBODY, skinny or fat, is immune to a sudden and catastrophic medical expense, from a car crash to ebola to marathon runners who die of heart attacks to physically healthy but emotionally devastated people who attempt suicide, and that’s part of why the crappy equations from that study explain so little of the variance in individual medical spending–chance is always going to play a role, individual genetics are always going to play a role, things we don’t know about and can’t control. But there’s something almost hatred in the response to challenging the magical thinking of “if I do everything right, I’ll be fine” because it points out that we have a lot less control than we think we do.

  84. One thing my husband brought up a while ago that I thought made a lot of sense, was that there is a logic to drinking soda and eating processed foods if you are poor and have little access to health care (leaving aside the issue of that being the cheapest way to get calories), nobody has ever gotten dysentery, AFAIK, from drinking soda. City water can taste funky and I wouldn’t drink the Detroit water unfiltered, myself. And I don’t know much about the deep frying process, but I’m willing to bet that after chicken as been deep fried, it’s highly unlikely that any salmonella bacteria are still hanging out in it. I’ve known a lot of people who’ve gotten salmonella from baked or grilled chicken, but I’m personally not aware of anyone who’s gotten it from fried. I’m not saying these foods are healthier, but that it is possible that your chance of getting food poisoning or another food-related illness are lower if you eat more processed foods than if you eat fresher foods, or if you eat fast food (which is prepared in a very standardized way) than if you eat homecooked food, especially if you don’t have a way to safely store and prepare fresh food.

    And, as somebody who was dry heaving for the last hour until I had some Sierra Mist, I am fully in favor of carbonated beverages right now. They aren’t usually my sweet beverage of choice–I’m more of a chocolate milk and lemonade person–but when you’re having nausea issues, they can be wonderful.

  85. Why is it that whenever the whole subject of “Damn those Fats! They are causing the rest of us Respectable Barely Eating and Never Sick Thins so much money in health care!” comes up, no one ever points out that fat folks pay for health care and taxes too? It never occurs to anyone that us fat people actually Make Money, and have to shell out the same amount (if not more!) out of every paycheck and doctor’s visit for insurance as the people that are smaller than us.

    But acknowleding that fat people pay taxes and work too would mean the whiners would have to actually treat them like regular people, and not some alien hive mind hellbent on eating their way through the earth.

    Seriously, I think the argument that fat people are driving up healthcare costs reeks of classism. There’s a mindset among many that the fatter you are, the poorer you are, and since the equation of poor = lazy is already ingrained in a lot of people’s minds, it doesn’t take much to put both together and form an image in their heads of all these fat people not working, living off welfare and medical assistance, shoving Big Macs down their throats three times a day while everyone else who isn’t fat slave away at their jobs and shell out huge amounts of cash for healthcare while eating as little as possible.

    People who are so prejudiced and filled with hate towards a certain group don’t let things like reality and practicality stand in the way of their stupid judgements.

  86. I’ve been lurking here for a while, but this is my first post, so please forgive me if this is inappropriate — but I thought some of the community here might be interested in a couple of posts by Atlantic blogger Megan McArdle over the last couple of days. I don’t agree with McArdle on very much, but I think it’s pretty cool that she’s tackling these issues from a place of relative sanity (note that there’s not a lot of sanity in the comments, but that’s hardly surprising).

    (I’ve no idea how to do pretty links, so please forgive that, too):

    America’s Moral Panic Over Obesity (interview with Paul Campos):
    http://meganmcardle.theatlantic.com/archives/2009/07/americas_moral_panic_over_obes.php

    Thining Thin:
    http://meganmcardle.theatlantic.com/archives/2009/07/thining_thin.php

  87. *sigh* Dear Jeebus, where to start.

    “Then I realize that it was because I was raised by a Catholic/Protestant household with a magical combo of Protestant work ethic and Catholic guilt. Pleasure? That’s only for people whose lives are perfect in every single way! The rest of us have to toil at self-improvement until we are righteous enough to use money for fun instead of squirreling it away.”

    That is a bottom-line United States psychopathology that underlies a lot of this — from sexism (vanity bad, b/c women might enjoy themselves) to sociocultural racism (those black and Hispanic people are dancing again? Even though that’s the only thing we pay them decently for?) to this healthism crap right here — I think.

  88. Here’s my problem. It’s only mine and I’m not speaking for even one other fatty.

    I am a survivor of sexual abuse. I use fat as a shield. I fully and completely admit to it. I also am bulimic because (among many other reasons) I have a mixed relationship with my fat.

    Personally, I would like to see a tax on treating children like personal sex toys. That’s what I’d like to see.

    Sorry for the dump but this shit really grates my cheese (thanks to whomever started the cheese descriptors!).

  89. I think that blaming fat people for the rising cost of health care is the moral equivelent of punching someone in the face, then suing them for the cost of dry cleaning when they happen to bleed on you. Personally? I absofuckinglutely refuse to own that they want to blame me for the cost of trying to make me disappear. Fuck them and their attempt to present me a bill for the side effects of torturing me with shame and pharmaceuticals, needless proceedures and cosmetic crap, to deny me the right to occupy my own godsdamn body. Fuckonomics indeed.

  90. Wait, so, I know this is intentionally fuzzy math, but supposedly two-thirds of the country is overweight or obese, but we’re only responsible for less than 10% of health care costs? (Since they seem to assume that every problem that a fat person has is caused by them being fat.)

    Go us!

  91. “I’m also of the opinion that HFCS is not a food. It’s an industrial chemical like potassium benzoate or BHA/BHT. It shouldn’t be considered on the same level as natural sugar or natural fat. Nothing wrong with making a chemical a villain.”

    Table sugar (sucrose) is about 50% glucose (also known as blood sugar) and 50% fructose. The most common kind of HFCS is around 45% glucose, 55% fructose (although there are varieties with much more fructose). Same chemicals, different manufacturing process. Glucose and fructose are metabolized differently by the body – and no one seems quite sure yet if/how consuming more fructose (which is hard to get in nature, because it only exists in smaller amounts in fruits and other plants, whereas glucose is broken down from grains and other starches) is bad for you. That is the only reason HFCS is considered evil. Too little evidence as of yet to to condemn it, IMO.

  92. sugar water. You might be poor and on food stamps but no one is forcing you to drink that. Double the cost of the nasty stuff with taxes, please.

    BUT WHAT ABOUT THE HUMMINGBIRDS? *cries*

  93. Sweet machine,
    Michael Polan definitely believes that the obesity is a health crisis and a major cause is the structure of food subsidies. He also wants people (fat or not) to drink less soda. I don’t see the essential difference between increasing the price of a coke by reducing the corn subsidy (his proposal) or by taxing the product itself (the mooted ‘fat tax’).

  94. I’m not sure we’re looking at this the right way – the problem is not that good food is too pricey but that bad food is too cheap. I don’t see a feasible way to make good food cost less, but if we make bad food cost more, it at least becomes a level playing field. The only reason food stamp recipients are paid so little right now is that they can survive on 10 for $10 Banquet TV dinners and generic soda. If that stuff cost more, benefits would be raised too, or at least that’s what we should be working towards. Instead of perpetuating a system where the poor eat crap and the rich eat organic.

    Jesus, could you be any more detached and theoretical about the reality not having enough money to buy food? Maybe it’s not just theory for you – I don’t know your background – but it sounds like you see poor folks as non-agents who need your help being tricked out of their uncouth Banquet frozen dinners and into a lovely ceviche… all because you personally think Banquet frozen dinners are grody and therefore “unhealthy” (because “health” long ago stopped meaning, you know, health.)

  95. He’s so lame he rode in on a donkey. Oh, and the donkey would like to let everyone know, he refuses to acknowledge any association with him.

  96. I use the terminology myself, but the whole “healthy”/”unhealthy” food thing isn’t even really valid, as I’m sure has been pointed out before. Assuming a food isn’t tainted or contaminated in some way that will cause immediate harm to a person’s health, or the person doesn’t have a condition that will cause a food to harm them immediately, then it’s not like any given food–even the evil, evil soda–will actually harm a person’s health. Some foods are more nutrient-dense then others, and it’s probably, on the whole, better for a person to eat more nutrient-dense foods, provided that getting adequate calories isn’t an issue (because, if it is, getting adequate calories is going to be more important to maintaining health in the short-term than getting adequate nutrients). But it’s not like specific foods are unhealthy in the sense of actually harming a person’s health. Given the choice between soda and water, which is more conducive to a person’s health is actually going to depend on many factors, like what the condition of the local water is and how many calories are available in the person’s diet aside from soda. Soda might be the best choice for a person’s health in some circumstances.

    Like I said, I use the phrase myself because it’s so ingrained, but I do think “unhealthy food” is best reserved for, say, e-coli tainted meat, as opposed to foods that I personally aren’t as nutrient-rich as I might find desirable.

  97. I’m more of a chocolate milk and lemonade person

    I don’t usually talk about good food and bad food, but chocolate-milk-and-lemonade? Is a bad food. Ew.

    (What, no-one else read it that way first? Really?)

  98. @Stephanie –

    The source I found for the US stated that:
    3% to 5% of US adults were morbidly obese (BMI > 40)
    25% of US adults were obese (BMI > 30)
    66% of US adults were overweight OR obese (BMI > 25)

    In the “costs of obesity” study, they’re using the “obese” measure (BMI > 30). So that’s 25% of adults responsible for however much of the healthcare costs.

    Because of course my 4 asthma perscriptions would all be totally unnecessary if I were thin.

  99. Re: taxing pop – MY STATE DOES. It’s called having a SALES TAX with an exemption for food and baby formula.

    I am not charged sales tax if I buy juice, which has as much or more calories as most pop. I am charged sales tax for diet Pepsi.

    Fat tax == Federal Sales Tax.

    (And obviously I’m from Washington, because I don’t say “soda” unless I’m referring baking soda — or possibly the mixer used in “scotch and soda”. ;)

  100. Well, still. 25% responsible for less than 10% of the costs is better than 10% of the people responsible for 25% of the costs . . .

    (Yeah, clearly thin people like my MIL and SIL don’t get asthma. Heh. Then why do they both have multiple prescriptions for inhalers and pills?)

    And my state (Ohio) taxes pop and not juice/food, too. (And we call it pop, too.)

  101. I’m now curious … if the roughly 25 percent of the population that is categorized as ‘obese’ accounts for only 10 percent of total medical costs … who accounts for the majority of those costs?

  102. This is obviously propaganda! The power-elite has bleed us dry. Government has to generate money. Are they going to point out the direness of the situation and be honest? We let a small group of greedy bankers walk away with the safe. Or are they going to scapegoat to obscure the issues and avoid rebellion? They are hiding behind fat stigma for another massive rip off. I would also bet some of those nasty posters are part of the propaganda campaign to try and create a bandwagon effect. It won’t work forever guys!!!

  103. You know, when I was a teenager and dare I say even a college student, I kinda thought like this. Then I realize that it was because I was raised by a Catholic/Protestant household with a magical combo of Protestant work ethic and Catholic guilt. Pleasure? That’s only for people whose lives are perfect in every single way! The rest of us have to toil at self-improvement until we are righteous enough to use money for fun instead of squirreling it away.

    OMG… How did I never put that together? It EXPLAINS SO MUCH about my WHOLE family. Argh. Thanks, SM!

  104. The only reason food stamp recipients are paid so little right now is that they can survive on 10 for $10 Banquet TV dinners and generic soda.

    **coughCaliforniabudgetcrisiscough**

  105. BTW, ceviche is cheap for me to make. I get those bags of mixed frozen shellfish for $3 at my local fish market, or $2 at Fubonn, and after that all you need is lime juice and aromatics and there ya go.

    Difference is, I don’t assume everyone has the same access to $2-$3 bags of mixed seafood that I have. Or that they all get to do their jobs and commutes sitting down. Or that none of them has health problems that prevent them from standing up and doing meal prep. Or that none of them are allergic to seafood, etc.

  106. Hey, psst, Jackie, I notice you used “lame” to mean bad, which we don’t do here because when you think about it that usage depends on ableism for its meaning.

    (YOU HORRIBLE PERSON, YOU! Heh, no, I kid. I jest because I am insecure and would instantly fill in the “YOU HORRIBLE PERSON” for myself, if it were me getting called out. Or I should say *when* it’s me getting called out, more like. But if I did, it would be unnecessary, and so too here.)

    Donkey jokes, AFAIK, are most welcome.

  107. “I don’t see a feasible way to make good food cost less…”

    I do. Revise next year’s US Farm Bill such that the incentives currently given for corn and dairy production are applied to a wider variety of crops. Make it incremental so big agribusiness has time to adjust, and it might even pass.

    Even better would be revising next year’s US Farm Bill so that it conforms with the US government’s treaty obligations, but that’d never pass the House.

  108. Yes! Tax the sugarwaters! Also tax bananas, white bread, Twinkies, Kitkats, Cheerios, margarine, diet yoghurt, sultanas (golden raisins) and anything else I don’t eat. Do *not* tax cherry-ripe bars, beer, butter, salt or wholegrain sourdough! I demand that MY personal preferences be made national policy RIGHT NOW!!!

    Or else I’m gonna stamp my feet. I’m warning you!

  109. This is exactly the dumb ideas they come up with to make us all healthier. Taxing soda will do absolutely nothing to improve health. How about you give people access to (non-judgmental) health care, huh?

    I’m also pretty tired of people who don’t want fat people “bringing their insurance rates up.” Well, I don’t particularly want to cover people who ride motorcycles, have one-night-stands, mountain climb, jaywalk, joust or give birth. Also, it would make my plan a whole lot cheaper if they would kick everyone off with chronic non-weight related health problems like juvenile diabetes and cystic fibrosis.

    /sarcasm

  110. @LilahCello: I recommend a slow cooker if you can scrape together $20-$35 or find one in a thrift shop. We eat a hell of a lot better since we got one five years ago, and cooking in one is ridiculously easy. There’s also a lot of books out there your public library might have for cooking cheapity cheap foods in a slow cooker, or if you get some free time, you can do what I do and scribble down quick recipes out of books while in the book store. (What, like those college students “studying” there aren’t using the books without paying for them?)

    It used to be a cliche that a newlywed couple would get a slow cooker they’d never use, but I know now why everyone thought of them as an indispensable kitchen tool! Plus, how cool is it to bung stuff in it to cook and come home after work to food instead of more work!

  111. (continuing Sticky’s sarcasm….)

    Quite right. Actually, I’m considering just refusing to pay for the healthcare of anyone whom I don’t like, or who does anything with his or her body that gives me an icky-poo feeling.

    Sure, it’s a self-defeating and irrational tantrum where, if it were enacted across-the-board, everyone would lose. But on the other hand, I get to point at some people and go “ew!”

  112. Sweet machine,
    Michael Polan definitely believes that the obesity is a health crisis and a major cause is the structure of food subsidies. He also wants people (fat or not) to drink less soda. I don’t see the essential difference between increasing the price of a coke by reducing the corn subsidy (his proposal) or by taxing the product itself (the mooted ‘fat tax’).

    guppy, the difference is that regardless of Pollan’s specious causation hypotheses between certain foods and population statistics, there are a lot of problems with how farming is subsidized in the U.S., from many of the other standpoints he goes after (like environmental concerns). And if corn becomes more expensive, companies like Coca-Cola will just move to other sweeteners. They don’t care what sweeteners they use — those recipes are just based on what’s readily and cheaply available. Go after the root of the problem. If you tax a particular food end product just because you believe in some causation effect that doesn’t even have any evidence to back it up, because you think it will reduce a nonexistent population trend that you think causes health problems that it probably doesn’t, well, that amounts to a tax that punishes everyone based on nothing but superstitious morality. There’s actually a big difference.

  113. Heh, Eucritta, it’s actually the people that live the longest that cost the population the most in [privately or publicly] shared health care expenses. So we really should be blaming the “overweight” people for living such long damn lives.

  114. Man, I sure do want ceviche now. Best food ever.

    “I’m also of the opinion that HFCS is not a food. It’s an industrial chemical like potassium benzoate or BHA/BHT. It shouldn’t be considered on the same level as natural sugar or natural fat. Nothing wrong with making a chemical a villain.

    I can’t find where this was originally said, but right on with your response, Bonnie. Whoever first said this: I never knew that you knew more than all those chemists about what compounds exist in different substances and whether or not those are digestible and nutritious for humans! Because man, you’re so right. Preservative salts aren’t like, salts or anything, and HFCS has all those… sugars in it! we can’t eat those! Only “natural” things are “foods.” Chemicals are evil.

    Man, it’s almost like I wrote a long blog post about that that I just linked here or something!

  115. There’s also a lot of books out there your public library might have for cooking cheapity cheap foods in a slow cooker, or if you get some free time, you can do what I do and scribble down quick recipes out of books while in the book store.

    There are also a ZILLION recipes online, many of which use cheap ingredients. Every time I think I’d like to buy a pretty new cookbook, I remember that the internet has more recipes (slow cooker and otherwise) than I could get through in a dozen lifetimes.

  116. I demand that MY personal preferences be made national policy RIGHT NOW!!

    Hmmm. Maybe you can help me develop a proposal to have my red wine intake subsidized. It’s good for the heart, right?

    Re: slow-cookers: I started using one when I lived in a little apartment (formerly storage space) that had power outlets, but no oven or stove. Pretty much lived on stew and toast that year, but it was good.

  117. I’m not sure we’re looking at this the right way – the problem is not that good food is too pricey but that bad food is too cheap.

    I always think I’m being too grumpy on here recently, and then I read something like that.

    The problem isn’t that good food is too pricey, you guys, it’s that bad food is so cheap! The only reason people on food stamps get so little isn’t because much of a supposedly Christian nation resents the hell out of every dollar It gives to its poor and needy and wishes they would go away already, it’s because food is so cheap it’s easy to get by on sweet fuck all! We need to make it even harder for poor people to feed themselves and their children! Quickly! Then…something good will theoretically happen, I wan’t clear on that.

    It must be so lovely to be these people who live in a fantasy world.

    Godless Heathen, Sniper ~ I was just thinking about getting a slow-cooker today! How interesting. I think that and bulk-buying online might make my food budget a lot easier to manage.

  118. Thank you, Caitlin. My husband lost his job last month and we’ve been living on ramen, rice, and all kinds of “cheap” food. I’m grateful we have what we do, and while it doesn’t even begin to compare what others go through on a daily basis, it’s been hard. Physically and emotionally.

    I can’t really eat intuitively. I have no fruit in the house. I bought the HFCS peanut butter because it was on sale. I bought the mac and cheese because it was affordable. And I’ve been thinking all week about how this is how some people live every day, without many choices. Between a rock and a hard place. And someone thinks we should make that even harder?

    Explain to me again why poor people don’t deserve to eat?

    The thing is, I know things will straighten out and I will be able to eat more of what I want again. Some people will never have that option.

  119. So they’re suggesting the governement should start trying to legislate our lifestyle choices for our own good? How novel.

  120. Well, I do mention cookbooks because the better ones will cover some slow cooker specific food safety rules, as well as what to avoid doing. When we first started using ours, we made a lot of mistakes, and pro tips from books helped a lot. Just brushing up on the dos and don’ts is helpful, even if you decide not to buy the book for the recipes.

  121. I suggest:

    http://www.slowandsimple.com/

    as a reference for slow cookers. It’s got plenty of tips, including ones on how to check if your old machine will still reach reasonably safe temperatures – which I remember, because I’m still using a mid-70s Crockpot. I suspect it will outlive me.

  122. Thanks to everyone for the advice on a slow cooker. I forget about that option. Assuming my electricity stays on, that might be a good idea. We will only be without our gas until mid-September, I hope. Financial aid, come on! : )

    @Caitlin, I felt that way, too – being too grumpy – then I read someone else’s response to one of the first “let’s tax nasty sugar water because it’s a choice” comment and felt less like the only one.

  123. I felt that way, too – being too grumpy – then I read someone else’s response to one of the first “let’s tax nasty sugar water because it’s a choice” comment and felt less like the only one.

    “Sugar water”, like. Fuck sake. Sometimes on a 5:30am start after a 10pm finish the only thing that stops me crying and walking out of there is a mars bar and some “sugar water”. Why? Because FAT and SUGAR and CAFFEINE are ENERGY-RICH. You see how that works? It enables people who are lucky enough to have a job and be fit to work to DO so so that we don’t burden the poor tax dollar (or pound) of “x” there. You’d think zie’d be all for it.

  124. I agree totally with the slow cookers, I really love stews and soups and gloppy foods in general.

    And while I’m thinking about it, HEY GODLESS HEATHEN! You said you were getting a sanity pony and after this fracking week, I really need a ride! You may not have it yet, but when you do, don’t forget to trot that bad boy over here! Or girl. I bet there are some really cool girl sanity ponies.

    The latest was letters to my little hometown newspaper where people were complaining that there were people gathering in a public place everyday. Now these people were gathering while brown, so it is assumed that they’re undocumented, and if undocumented, up to no good. Standing there or leaning against the wall while chatting. Obviously something must be done. I know this is off-topic but I was thinking about all the help that the middle-class likes to give the poor, and this came to mind.

    I’m going to bed now and when I wake up there better be a pony.

  125. @Caitlin – I hear ya’. My husband and I are both back in school. We homeschool our 9yo and have a 15 month old. Let me tell you, if it weren’t for soda, espresso drinks, and the occasional Red Bull, I’d never make it through. But damn us for being so fucking poor and on food stamps. God/dess forbid we be working toward better careers or anything.

  126. The latest was letters to my little hometown newspaper where people were complaining that there were people gathering in a public place everyday.

    I feel like there’s something about that in your constitution somewhere. Freedom to…something, I forget.

    LilahCello, YOU DRINK RED BULL ON FOOD STAMPS? GUARDS! GUARDS!*

    (*which is a really fucking weird word to type twice in capitals. I was all “gaurds? garuds?”)

  127. Sometimes on a 5:30am start after a 10pm finish the only thing that stops me crying and walking out of there is a mars bar and some “sugar water”. Why? Because FAT and SUGAR and CAFFEINE are ENERGY-RICH. You see how that works?

    This reminds me of a conversation my friend had with some dude at a bus stop. She was drinking tea; he was drinking coffee.

    Dude: What’s that, tea?
    Friend: Yep.
    Dude: Tea’s stupid. It’s just, like, flavored water.
    Friend: [stares at dude's coffee cup]

    If I like it, it’s a fine beverage. If you or a stranger at Chili’s likes it, then it’s flavored water.

  128. Chili’s! HAS THAT PLACE NOT BEEN SHUT DOWN ALREADY? WE HAVE AN OBESITY CRISIS.

    (I’ve missed Chili’s on here. *happy sigh*)

  129. You have to understand that its USA that has this weird gap between cheap junk food and non-processed food and not really other places.

    Erm. This seems to me to assume that … the prices in the U.S. are due to some aberration from a … presumptive normative ‘free market’ state for food prices … unaffected by history, politics, location … and no doubt a host of other factors, up to and including cultural preferences.

    And, thing is, there just isn’t.

    I can’t speak to the reason as to why this might be, but actually, it seems to be true that there is some weird disconnect between the cost of bulk staples and veges in the US, and the cost of junk food. Everywhere I’ve lived (three countries), and certainly in non-industrialised countries, the cheap food is the non-processed stuff.

    Sure, you can buy cheap processed crap here in Oz as well (and, hey, I do when I have a hankering), but it’s still going to be cheaper to buy a kilo of spuds and cook them up than it is to go to the fish and chippy. It’s still cheaper to buy that kilo of spuds and half a dozen sausages than it is to buy two McDonalds Big Macs and fries. Add some fresh beans in season, and it’s still cheaper. My understanding is that it’s often not the case in urban areas in the US, assuming you can even find the fresh beans. That’s fucked.

    Maybe I’m missing the point here (and excuse me if I am), but mentioning a “presumptive normative ‘free market’ state for food” in relation to the US is patently rubbish, particularly since you have some o the highest agricultural subsidies and protective tariffs in the world. I’m not going to get int HFCS booga booga booga, but if you’re going to have subsidies, why not direct some at the produce growers and not just the corn and soy farmers?

  130. Slow Cookers: If you are money-poor and time-rich, you can do complicated things with insulated boxes, sometimes called “hayboxes,” where you heat the food to hot, insulate it, and it cooks in its own heat without further energy use. I’ve heard of it being used to make porridge overnight, and I’d use it for vegetable stew but not meat stew, I think. I can imagine it doing brilliantly for curries full of chickpeas and lentils.

    Tea vs Coffee: Given equal brewing time, apparently tea has MORE caffeine than coffee. Certainly I can drink more of it without getting stomach trouble.

    Cheap nasty food: My mother’s last year with a dependent adult child at home, who was finishing school, she lived on the cheapest foods, and turned diabetic. She has since controlled her diet – at first rigidly and now just “back to pre-poverty levels” but will never feel safe again eating exactly what she pleases. Highly processed supermarket own-brand white bread and noodles and sugar-laden instafoods are cheaper than cook-your-own type things even in farmtastic Ireland.

  131. I remember trying to read Freakonomics when it first came out and being immediately put off by the first chapter. There, the writers put forward the theory that the reason crime rates went down in the 90s was because women who would have given birth to criminals in the late 60s/early 70s had abortions.

    WTF? I think I didn’t make it beyond page 5. Was I supposed to find this kind of thinking subversive? I just found it horribly offensive. So it’s not surprising to see these tools come with the fat hate. Nor is it surprising to read the smug comments. I tried to get a comment posted yesterday, but in my anger, I spouted off about how I’d missed my calling and all I needed to do to get a blog on the NYT site was concoct some bogus theory to be lapped up by the masses.

    That post and the comments that followed it just confirmed the hate-hate relationship i have with the NY Times content. Far from being a cutting edge, forward thinking publication, it’s lately been a repository for all kinds of hucksterism.

  132. if you’re going to have subsidies, why not direct some at the produce growers and not just the corn and soy farmers?

    Money and political influence. Massive soy growers have it, tomato growers do not. The idea of a free market in the U.S. is, as you pointed out, a complete joke.

  133. I mean, and there are reasons for that. Soy and corn and peanuts, etc. are used for industrial uses that are not related to food, and there are benefits to having them available for that for cheap. So while i agree that the subsidies are overall really problematic, it’s not just like the government wants us to eat nothing but corn all the time. It’s more complicated.

  134. Maybe I’m missing the point here (and excuse me if I am), but mentioning a “presumptive normative ‘free market’ state for food” in relation to the US is patently rubbish,….

    That was actually part of my point. The other part was that so far as I’m aware, there’s no region or country where politics etc. do not affect food prices and availability.

  135. This is the sort of thing that makes me a little nervous about well-intentioned progressives pushing for a “wellness-based” healthcare system, actually; it’s hard to explain to them that their personal biases and preferences surrounding The Good Life are probably not actually as universal, or as effectively magical, as they fervently believe them to be.

    “But if we could just reward people for fill-in-the-blank (eating organic produce, breastfeeding till toddlerhood, going to yoga classes, baking their own bread) then that would solve the problems before they even began!”

    Um, sure! lol.

  136. Anyway, I think Lori’s point about the relative short-term safety of processed food is thought-provoking.

    I notice my family elders are actually much less likely to scorn processed foods than their great-grandchildren are.

    That generation that grew up before every house had a refrigerator don’t turn its nose up at canned food, which the nice yuppie moms of my generation seem to view as near-poison. lol.

    I’ll never forget watching a bunch of twenty-something girls mocking green bean casserole “made with CANNED beans!” like it was so far beyond the pale they couldn’t imagine actually EATING it.

    Even things like whole-wheat flour have a significantly shorter shelf-life than white does– some of this pickiness about food is pretty much just a real tired form of status-seeking.

  137. Homemade baked goods, too, whether made with whole-wheat flour or not, have a significantly shorter self life than store bought baked goods, in my experience. If I buy a loaf of bread at the store, it will likely last a good two weeks, possibly more; if I bake a loaf of bread, if we don’t eat it within 2-3 days, it’s pretty much inedible. I was shocked the other day at how much longer a piece of cornbread we’d gotten at Boston Market lasted (it sat on our counter in a bag for at least a week, and was still soft and unmoldy when we finally threw it out) than the cornbread I made from scratch (which, while extremely delicious, only lasts a few days before it gets moldy).

    Part of what that means is that keeping your family stocked in homemade bread is a LOT more time consuming than keeping them stocked in store bought bread. It’s not just like, instead of going to the grocery store, you spend that hour baking bread. You’ll probably need to bake bread 2-3 times during the week, to make sure your family has edible bread each day. And if you have the time (which I often do) and enjoy making bread (which I do), then it can be fun and not something you mind, but it’s certainly not feasible for many people.

  138. Yeah, I find this true as well, Lori. Homemade bread doesn’t keep nearly as well– hence the plethora of ancient recipes for bread pudding, french toast, even bread salad. Ways to use up “day-old” bread, which is quite noticeably less palatable than fresh-baked.

    Anyone who remembers those days remembers, too, that it was all quite time-consuming, and that a lot of the burden fell on Mother Dearest and the eldest daughter.

    Everyone makes fun of the convenience-food crazes of the 50s and 60s… but man, it had to have been a relief not to have to come up with a giant family meal from scratch night after night after night after night…. women moving into the paid workforce probably accelerated those trends a hundredfold. Whether this is for good or for ill is much too complicated to get into here, I think.

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