Jayson Lusk

According to New York City’s mayor Bloomberg, the government’s highest duty is to promote healthy eating. His cause has been taken up by a growing number of politicians who want to ensure that all Americans are “normal” weight. It is more than a little disconcerting, then, to learn that the mounting number of federal, state, and local policies aimed at slimming our waists may be misguided. The results from a careful literature review recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that people who are overweight and even a bit obese actually live longer than normal weight folk.

We keep a spare tire on our car for a good reason. Apparently Mother Nature wisely designed our bodies to keep one too. The study revealed that a six-foot tall “overweight” man weighing 220 pounds is actually about 6% less likely to die than a 180lb, six-foot tall “normal” weight man. The study also showed that our overweight man can add an extra 34lbs (reaching 254lbs) before increasing his risk of death. Given that the majority of Americans are now overweight, it is about time we re-consider what is “normal.” What’s more, we should re-consider what’s considered pathological.

We are each genetically endowed with propensities to develop unique body shapes. Magazines lining supermarket check-out lines have somehow convinced us that we should all look the same. The pathologizing of extreme body types by public health professionals, pharmaceutical companies, and the federal government, for example by referring to obesity as an “epidemic”, has added insult to injury. And, it has licensed the actions of those who want to use the power of the government to restrict what we eat. Yet, if being overweight increases your lifespan, is it possible that government mandated fat taxes and soda bans may prematurely kill us?

To justify their roles on our dinner plate, the food police point to rising public health care costs, particularly Medicare and Medicaid. These public health insurance programs have become crisis engines. After all, something will kill us one day, and some ailment will be the leading cause of death. By taking private health care costs and turning them public, the food police have created a perpetual source of public crisis that justify government action and their existence.

Jayson Lusk

Jayson Lusk currently serves as Professor and Willard Sparks Endowed Chair in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Oklahoma State University.