The Bi-Partisan War on Fat: A Skeptic’s Approach to A Growing Problem

By: A. B. Jacobs

I note with interest that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an entity of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), just discovered a new crisis in our midst. Not content merely to battle terror, drugs, smoking, mental illness, and a host of lesser maladies, the federal government is turning its attention to a new plague: obesity. It is true, of course, that many Americans are too heavy, with recent studies indicating 65 percent of the population overweight. Nor can we deny that many citizens lead unhealthful lives, the result of a sedentary lifestyle combined with consumption of too much of the wrong foods. This brings us to the real question: What should our nation do about it?

Regardless of what should be done, I can predict what will be done. In keeping with government's prevailing tendency to institutionalize personal failing, a massive War on Fat will be launched. As an essentially bipartisan crusade, the program will contain elements of both Democratic and Republican doctrine. In case you're uncertain as to the inherent philosophic difference between the two major parties, it consists of the manner in which each approach problems: The former throws money at them whereas the latter passes resolutions against them. A well-reasoned approach to an important issue is seldom offered and rarely embraced by the political community.

As to how the war will be waged, certain fundamental methods are employed, with the running of "public service" ads always a favorite. The program is currently taking form under an agreement with The Advertising Council, a non-profit group dating back to 1942, responsible for such messages as "Loose Lips Sink Ships," used during WWII, and the forest fire safety character Smokey Bear. The commercials already set for use on TV, radio, and billboards employ a variety of humorous antics involving discarded body parts, together with messages such as "Take the stairs instead of the elevator." It's clear that the emphasis will be on evoking laughs and promoting slogans.

The second element of the project involves the time-tested technique of studying the problem. Accordingly, a series of obesity research contracts will be negotiated so that the reasons for and the solutions to undesirable weight gain can be determined. The fact that the CDC already possesses the results of about a thousand studies relating to much of the same data will not dissuade them from conducting new studies. This is in keeping with the Four Fundamental Rules of Research: (1) Approach all problems by first counting the units; (2) Categorize what you just counted; (3) Ascribe a title to each assigned category; (4) Begin again with (1).

So as you see, the stage is set for an epic undertaking. The billions in taxpayer dollars eventually to be expended on this quest will be limited only by the imagination of the many participants. At this point, the only real uncertainty is whether the struggle will remain under the direction of HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson or, reflecting the political infighting yet to come, be transferred to a new cabinet level official to be dubbed the Fat Czar.

Having described what is scheduled to take place in the battle against flab—mostly sloganeering and the granting of lucrative contracts to preferred groups—I'd now like to offer my recommendation of a more appropriate approach. Considering the actual problem, the public should have access to information on suitable foods, be encouraged to follow reasonable exercise programs, and then left to its own devices. Those persons sensible enough to manage their lives properly will do so. For the rest, nature will take its course—exactly as it will anyway.

This finally gets me to the crux of my message: details of a two-part plan that actually promotes healthful living and weight control. The first half concerns the food we eat. Over the years my reading included such best sellers as The Drinking Man's Diet, Dr. Atkin's New Diet Revolution, and The Beverly Hills Diet, to mention just a few. Some of the books and articles contain a strain of reasonableness, while in others the recommendations are literally off the wall. Of them all, one author was clearly ahead of his time. That man, the late Nathan Pritikin, truly revolutionized the world's thinking with his Live Longer Now, first published in 1973. Eventually the medical community came to accept his concept of a regimen high in complex carbohydrates while low in fats, sugars, salt, and caffeine. Although that book is now out of print, a more recent work, The Pritikin Program for Diet & Exercise is available. It lays out a program that can promote a long and healthy tenure on this earth. I recognize, of course, that what I advocate contradicts today's most popular eating concept: the low-carb idiocy—a fad based primarily on the time-honored marketing premise: whatever sells. No matter! After the craze passes, the dietary world can return to normal.

The second half of my agenda relates to a commitment to physical activity. As expected, there is no limit to the number of books and articles offering the ultimate exercise program, with each title suggesting its own view of nirvana. If you are not intrigued with Stretch Yourself for Health & Fitness, perhaps The Superstar Workout will suit you better. Then again, Hanging Out: The Upside Down Exercise Book may strike your fancy, unless a critical time shortage drives you instead to Thirty Days to a Beautiful Body. As with books on diet, some of the exercise programs seem reasonable, others make little or no sense, and more than a few are potentially dangerous. However, one book makes sense. The author is Kenneth H. Cooper, M.D., and the approach outlined in his book, The Aerobics Program for Total Well-Being, formed the basis of the Royal Canadian Air Force exercise program. The essence of his method is selection by the participant of one or more exercises of choice, in which the benefit of each activity can be assessed by an easily measured point system. Dr. Cooper's concept is a technique to encourage life-long activity. It is as close to must reading as can be found.

I'm sure it comes as no surprise that both Pritikin and Cooper are an integral part of my life. Together they enable me to maintain my college graduation weight of 154 pounds while enjoying tasty and filling quantities of grains, pasta, rice, and potatoes. Furthermore, a five times weekly routine of light weights, treadmilling, and swimming has made stairs easier to climb, prolonged periods of work less taxing, and a noticeable absence of aches or pains. Although physical ailments come my way, as inevitably they must, I manage to keep them from becoming debilitating while maintaining an easily cartable weight along with usable muscles and an efficient circulatory system. Although each of us will eventually conclude our visit to this small planet, the time we spend here will be far more sustainable if we treat ourselves as though the warranty expired.

Author Al Jacobs has been an entrepreneur for forty years. His business experience ranges from property management and securities investment to appraisal, civil engineering, and the operation of a private trust company. In his book, Nobody's Fool - A Skeptic's Guide to Prosperity, Al presents his Ten Ground Rules for Success for achieving wealth and a prosperous life by outlining a philosophy for spending, borrowing, making sound investments, and how to avoid being victimized by America's many intimidating institutions. Visit Al at

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