Bill Murchison

If, as matters stand already, the House and the Senate can't come together on Medicare drug policy, wait until the federal government pronounces obesity a disease. We'll be able to burn up a few thousand calories a day just flapping our jaws over the varied implications of such a novel take on an immemorial plight.

Don't bet against it. Avoirdupois, as we used delicately to call the overweight state, and the social implications arising from it constitute a political topic of considerable heft. And not just with regard to the American Obesity Association's call for declaring obesity a disease, treatable under health insurance.

"This year," relates The New York Times, "150 bills have been introduced in state legislatures, more than double the number the previous year -- and 10 in the last six weeks alone ... " Bills to do what? Why, of course, to Address the Problem in the political manner, with laws, regulations, demands, subsidies, you name it.

Political warriors ride to the sound of the guns. The guns, so to speak, are going off all around. The percentage of Americans at least 100 pounds overweight quadrupled between 1986 and 2000. Entrepreneurs understand what is going on: The Amplestuff Co. offers a line of products for the amply stuffed: seat belt extenders and scales that register personal weights of up to 1,000 pounds. Casket companies nowadays find significant demand for boxes 44 inches wide vs. the long-standard 24. And so on.

It is malicious to make fun of any disability. A point, nonetheless, requiring more thought is that it is malicious to give the government work for which it isn't even qualified, such as keeping watch and ward over how Americans eat and exercise.

Weight legislation is the latest form of Big Brother welfarism, or will be once this stuff -- for instance, required nutrition information on restaurant menus -- starts to pass, as it very well might. A decade or so ago, the idea of generally imposed bans on cigarette smoking was from Mars -- distant and scary. Then, Mars moved into alignment with Earth's political trends. Try finding these days a restaurant or business office in which to light up.

A comparison of this sort could hearten the American Obesity Association, which invites the politicians to think of obesity, like lung cancer, as a condition requiring medical care. That might be fine except for: 1) the documentable fact that many if not most people of girth just plain eat too much while exercising too little and 2) the cost of their medical care would come out of the hides, as it were, of those who don't eat too much and do take occasional brisk walks.

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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