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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dogma of Stupid: Public Health and Unintended Consequences

As a kid growing up in the 1960's smoking was a big issue in many ways.

For one, it took up time on TV and radio - cigarette jingles where everywhere: "To A Smoker, It's a Kent" and that sort of thing.  But as the sixties came to a close so did the public advertising of tobacco products.  At the same time vast campaigns appeared to warn of the dangers of smoking.

From these humble beginnings today's anti-smoking juggernaut of "class action" cases at the local, state and national levels grew.

Today anti-smoking is a multi-billion dollar industry in the USA.  It has effective reduced the overall smoking rate from around 42% in 1960 to around 19% today.

But that's not all its done in my opinion.  Today we see comments like this in the WSJ: "While tobacco use has plummeted since the 1960s, obesity rates have soared" and "'The gains made by reducing tobacco use over the past few decades are at least partially being offset now by obesity,' said Susan Mayne, professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health and associate director of the Yale Cancer Center."  (Underline mine.)

Obesity is now making up for the "savings" of health problems and deaths caused by reducing tobacco.  How nice.

All I can say is what did they expect?

Human life is a game where everyone, save one or two, dies.

That's an effective 100% mortality rate so it not like any fewer people will die.

They will just die of something else.

Something not guaranteed to be any cheaper, simpler or less expensive.

Now one of the ideas behind tobacco was that it offers a "soothing effect" to those that use it.  Nicotine itself, as you may or may not know, does not cause cancer (see "Nicotine, Nazi's and Magical Thinking").  Its the "burning" that emits the thousands of carcinogens that cause problems.

Nicotine itself (found in many common foods like potatoes) provides many people with one form or other of mental health benefits.

Take away these benefits and many people seek some form of "replacement."

Here in the USA that's often food.

Even as a child I recall those who were trying to "quit smoking" - the major side effect was always "weight gain" - even in the early 1970's.

While the "anti-smoking" bandwagon seems like a good one it would seem that no on really thought through where the bandwagon was headed.  People just "piled" on because they hated those "nasty, dirty smokers."  After all who wants to go to a bar or public place where smokers are present?  Its smells.  They're dirty.  You know all the rest.

Only problem is that the bandwagon is now rolling off the edge of the obesity cliff.

With more related cancers, among all the other problems.

Since the wise and wonderful "anti-smoking" wizards never thought about the consequences of their actions it would seem that we are now in a worse pickle with obesity rates (see this handy CDC web page indicating obesity at thirty plus percent for the US population in some states).

People, it would seem, need always need a vice.

And when you take one away they find ways to replace it with another.

In this case food.

And as I have written here its mostly bad food.  Oils engineered by companies like Monsanto, high fructose corn syrup, colorful boxes and cans full of high sugar, high fat junk food.

So as the "big food" juggernaut rolls out to replace "tobacco" as the evil of all health there's yet another ironic twist.

Over the last decade or so the rise of obesity has pushed big pharma bandwagons into the "anti-cholesterol" direction.  After all - its not the food we're eating that's bad - nope.  Its what's in the food that must be bad (after all - eating food to replace those tobacco cravings and to replace the mental tobacco solace is a good thing, right? so we have to make the food less dangerous so we can eat more).

Human taste buds favor salt and grease.  So initially fast junk foods started out with lots of that.  But as the obesity problems grew people though "oh my, we better take those nasty things out of the junk foods so people will keep eating them..."

Bzzzt!  Wrong!

People are eating too much food in the first place.

(I suppose if they had cigarettes they'd at least be eating less...)

So the magical solution is to make the foods have less calories instead of diminishing the quantities  eaten (that would make people cranky and reduce profits so we can't have that...).  So now the foods contain less nutrition so we eat more (our bodies are not used to this - we eat more because out body tells us to because as it processes the last batch it discovers that what it thought was in the food was not there...)

More finely processed crap like sugar and wheat to clog our bowels and cause colorectal cancer.

Better yet we'll create an extra villain called "cholesterol" to blame all this on.  Never mind that without cholesterol (or maybe, better yet...) people are documented to become, well, dumber.  To acquire dementia.

So now people can stuff their faces with tons of junk food, but because its all "low fat" it will make them fat a little more slowly and dumber faster.

My guess is that obesity will soon reach the epidemic levels (maybe 40%) that smoking was once at - as well as bringing along all the negative consequences.

Now certainly there are other factors involved in the obesity epidemic - but that just makes the picture worse.  Now there's both smoking and obesity: 20% of the US smoking and 30% obese.

I wonder how much overlap there is?

Of course, no one takes into account illegal drugs in all this - particularly marijuana.  In fact, according to many web sites marijuana never causes any health problems...

Maybe we should all start smoking that next.

The problem with all this manipulation of public health is that "unforeseen consequences" are not the problem of those creating policies.

(Sadly, they are the problem of you and I who must live with the result.)

Yet every week in the local Walmart SuperCenter I am stupefied by the unbelievable acres of junk food in the aisles.  Color, wondrous boxes of low fat, bad health placation for the masses.

All I can say is "look before you leap..."

What if we had simply let people figure out on their own smoking was bad?

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