Oops, make that 25,814 -- not 400,000.
In March 2004, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said 400,000 Americans die each year due to obesity-related problems. But wait. Citing flawed data, four months ago the CDC revised the number down to 365,000. But now, another branch of the CDC says the first branch -- the CDC's Division of Adult and Community Health -- got it wrong. The CDC's National Center for Health Statistics says, no, the real figure is 111,909. And after you deduct the beneficial effects of being moderately overweight, the figure declines to 25,814!
So is the CDC going to recognize the new number? Of course not. CDC director Julie Gerberding (who co-wrote last year's 400,000-deaths-per-year report) says the organization won't use the new number because of uncertain methodology, and called for more research. Does the CDC intend to scale back its fight against the "epidemic" of obesity, given the much smaller, new number? Gerberding says no, because, "There's absolutely no question that obesity is a major public health concern of this country."
Whatever the correct figure, expect the government's attack on "the obese" to continue. Like cigarette smokers, overeaters now serve as a pinata from which they can extract taxes. It is not just that people think cigarette smokers and overeaters engage in unhealthful behavior. Many consider smokers and overeaters guilty of moral failure. So tax 'em!
The mayor of Detroit, for example, recommends a fast-food tax. "Fat tax" supporters argue that, as with cigarette taxes, higher prices may encourage more healthful behavior.
A recent caller to my radio program, Linda, supports the tax.
Linda: I'm hoping this tax will motivate people, get them to do their own cooking.
Linda: There are too many fat people -- they're all going to fast-food places. . . . I'm so glad they're doing this. . . . Because they're fat, fat, fat. They're eating the wrong food. Stay home, do your own good cooking.
Larry: Do you engage in any kind of conduct that other people might condemn, Linda? Do you drink?
Linda: No . . .
Larry: Do you watch TV?
Linda: Yes, and I watch those terrible commercials from fast-food places, and I get angry. They should tax those commercials, too.
Larry: Maybe they ought to tax you for watching so much television. Why don't you get up and exercise more?
Linda: People have no restraint. They need to be restrained.
Larry: You think the job of the legislature is to restrain them by taxing their behavior?