Why Dr. Pamela Peeke Will Argue for Government Intervention in the Obesity Epidemic at the Slate/Intelligence Squared Debate on…

Live debates about fascinating and contentious topics.
Feb. 2 2012 6:45 AM

Twinkies Are Science Fair Projects

And other reasons the government should play a role in America’s war on obesity.

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SLATE: If the government can regulate junk food advertisements on the grounds that they promote harmful habits, should it be able to regulate ads that celebrate dangerously skinny women?

PEEKE: What really needs to happen is that leaders in the industry, like Donna Karan, need to stand up and speak out. They need to start hiring healthy-looking models and paying them well.

SLATE: What got you interested in nutrition, food, and weight?

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PEEKE: I love the study of nutrition because it involves everything from science to real beauty. It’s very primal: gardening,  growing herbs and taking them into the kitchen, coming full circle. Also, as a physician, I’d never had one course in nutrition, but you’re supposed to consult your physician before undertaking any sort of diet! What for? When I finished my mainline training, I did a number of years in intensive care and trauma. I had to keep people alive, and I had to learn on the job, because no one ever explained to me how these macronutrients work in the human body. I knew you needed a certain number of calories to stay alive after sustaining massive burns—but I wanted to go further. At first, when my patients asked me questions about what to eat, I sat there clueless. That’s why I went back to school.

SLATE: Are there any food products sold today with no redeeming value whatsoever?

PEEKE: It’s interesting that you say “redeeming value,” because people like to have balance and freedom of choice. If they want to have a fried Twinkie at some county fair, I’m going to cringe, because I think Twinkies are science fair projects. I don’t know what they are. But they’re someone else’s treat.

What really horrifies me is when they take a regular hamburger and turn it into this 5,000 calorie stack of everything. It’s a heart attack in a gigantic pile. There is nothing wrong with a decent burger, but piling it up for 20 stories is completely absurd. Your body is not going to like what you just did to it. I don’t care how young you are.

SLATE: Should the 20-story burger be banned or regulated?

PEEKE: No. That tack is only appropriate in the context of dietary supplements, where you see absolute harm to life and body. Aside from the FDA protecting me from pharmaceutical scams, I am against regulation. I support the government continuing to take nonregulatory roles, but doing them better. For instance, agencies are communicating now, but it’s so boring I could shoot myself. Where is the social media? Where is the Facebook page explaining USDA labels?

SLATE: What is your favorite dessert?

PEEKE: I’m old-fashioned. There’s nothing in the world that gets me going like a scoop of vanilla ice cream—just a little scoop—and a slice of hot apple pie. I don’t eat a whole lot. Just a little bit. I believe in the fine art of tasting more than anything else.