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?
Linda: They're fat. They're unhealthy, they have diabetes, they have high blood pressure, and they're at the fast-food place -- and their children watch them, and then the children go there, too. It's a disgrace! Cook, cook, cook.
Larry: What do you do when they cook junk . . . when they cook fried foods?
Linda: No, no. They have to cook healthy food.
Larry: How are you going to ensure that? This tax makes the price go up, and more people are cooking at home. How do you guarantee they won't cook the same crap they went out to buy before?
Linda: If we have enough talk about healthy food, someday people will realize they have to cook healthy foods.
Larry: Why don't you contribute to a fund for television Public Service Announcements, advising people what they should do? Why are you going to legislators to tax other people's behavior that you don't like? Unbelievable.
Linda: Why are the Oriental people and European people much healthier than the American people? The American people are obese! . . . I'm horrified by how many obese people there are.
Larry: What about Asians who are here? . . . Are they overweight?
Linda: Not as much as American people.
Larry: Well, how do you suppose they manage not to walk into a restaurant and get fat? And whatever they're doing, why can't everybody else do it, too?
Linda: That food is bad. Your mother can tell you that.
Larry: Should we tax people who order fried chicken at restaurants?
Linda: Why, that's bad, too! Yes, yes, all that bad food should be stopped. . . .
Larry: So tax hikes for health are OK.
Linda: Something has to be done. It's a start.
Larry: Why are you concerned about how fat people are?
Linda: People end up in the hospital, and we're paying for their health problems. Not only that, but even to look at them! They're disgusting to look at! Every time I come back from the store or walk around, I come back furious, seeing how fat they are!
Larry: I bet if you see a fat person smoking a cigarette, you're ready to have a heart attack, aren't you?
Linda: No, cigarettes don't bother me. I'm not a smoker, but it doesn't bother me as much as looking at an obese person. I mean, don't they have mirrors? Don't they look in the mirror and go, "Oh my God, I have to do something about this weight"?
Look on the bright side. Linda isn't in Congress . . . yet.