Jonah Goldberg

What do fat people, and the Swift Boat Vets for Truth have in common? They are also the products of "iatrogenic government."

In medicine an iatrogenic condition or ailment is one that is caused by the physician, either deliberately or by accident. Give too much medicine, or the wrong kind, and the negative consequences are iatrogenic.

The late Sen. Pat Moynihan coined the phrase "iatrogenic government" to describe problems that were created by the intent to cure. What he had in mind was the tendency of the drug war to create more problems than it solves. But the same thing goes on all the time.

Take fat people. As you've no doubt heard, obesity is on the rise in the United States - its prevalence among adults has grown by 74 percent since 1991, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Obesity (and sedentary lifestyles) may soon outpace cigarette smoking as the No. 1 cause of preventable deaths in America. And that's the ironic part. The War on Tobacco has helped to create the need for a War on Fat.

A host of studies have recently shown that a significant part of the obesity "epidemic" is a result of the decline in smoking. Cigarettes, we all know, are an appetite suppressant. They're also a good substitute for a Krispy Kreme doughnut if you're looking to kill time. A recent survey of the research literature in The Public Interest found that "each 10 percent increase in the real price of cigarettes produces a 2 percent increase in the number of obese people." In other words, every new cigarette tax and regulatory burden placed on the tobacco companies creates more fat people.

Of course there are other factors. One of the amusing ones is feminism. The entry of millions of women into the workforce has left less time for mothers to cook nutritious meals at home. Instead, these harried super-moms pop Hot Pockets (mmm, Hot Pockets) into the microwave - or they just go out to McDonald's (mmm, Mickey Ds). One study finds that an increase in the hours worked by mothers can result in up to "one-third of the growth in obesity among children in certain families."

In other words, laws that make it easier for women to enter the workforce also make it easier for kids to balloon-up like Violet Beauregard, the girl who ate the experimental gum in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." Of course, capitalism's a big culprit, too, so we'll just call it even.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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