Fat

Fat

E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
Dec. 10 1997 3:30 AM

Fat

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Dear Richard,

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       If you're a public figure making tons of money doing something that hurts other people, I offer no apologies for saying negative, truthful things about your work. In her infomercials, Susan Powter quite literally screams at her audience. Her book Stop the Insanity is indeed utter nonsense; she claims, for instance, that it's better to eat 3,250 fat-free calories a day than a single cookie that has only 78 calories but contains a few grams of fat. Chopra's book was utterly devoid of science. Indeed, I quoted him as saying that cutting calories actually makes you fatter! Debra Waterhouse had one best seller called Fighting the Female Fat Cell. There is no such thing as a female fat cell. Her other best-selling diet book is called Women Need Chocolate. Need I say more about Waterhouse? As to Susie Orbach, she wrote two whole books saying that women are fat because of oppression from a male-dominated society, notwithstanding that 53 percent of the women in this country (using the most recent data available) are healthily thin while only 40 percent of men are. Back to the drawing board, Susie. All of this information is in my book, so you knew this. Yet you ignored it in order to label me a mere name-caller. Fine. But with 300,000 Americans a year dying from obesity, I'm not going to pull punches.
       Did I pan Redux? On Page 246 I wrote that one obesity researcher told me, "I'm not recommending [Redux] to any of my patients until research shows that it's better than phen/fen," and immediately added, "I agree. Phen/fen is far cheaper, has been tested far longer in this country for safety, and may be as effective or more so than Redux." Two pages earlier, I wrote of the book The Redux Revolution, "[T]o talk about Redux as revolutionary is sheer nonsense." On Page 235 I noted that one study showed people using dirt-cheap over-the-counter medicine lost more weight than a control group on Redux. Finally, the subheading for the entire Redux section is "Redux Ridiculousness." Sounds like a pan to me, Richard.
       You not only ignore what's in my book, you ignore my last installment in this dialogue when I discussed the phen/fen issue. As I stated, all the heart-valve revelations about phen/fen came out long after my book went to press. It hardly seems fair to hold me--and the FDA--responsible for not foreseeing the future. Further, for all we know, the heart-valve problem is less of a health risk than the obesity that the phen/fen treated. (Incidentally, virtually all these problems have been found in females; my friend is male.) Finally, you again ignored, both in my book and in my last installment, that the whole beginning of the diet-pill chapter warns people away from the things. I provided eight different problems with diet drugs in general. This included, on Page 229: "I don't believe anybody 'needs' drugs to lose weight," and "over time and spread over a large enough population, even the safest drug will prompt some dangerous side effects in some people."
       Taking Metamucil daily is "loopy"? How can you possibly conclude that after reading my whole chapter on fiber? I cited several studies showing that daily fiber supplements like Metamucil are extremely effective in weight loss. In one such study, Scandinavian women given a small fiber supplement lost 4.5 pounds more over three months than a control group that took no extra fiber. That comes out to 18 pounds in a year without eating one less calorie or joining a health club. To me that's great; to you it's "loopy."
       The dosage of 25 milligrams of ephedrine three times a day is exactly what you get in drugs like Primatene and Bronkaid, which have been sold over-the-counter for decades. Two hundred milligrams of caffeine is the equivalent of two cups of coffee. You have no problems with people being hundreds of pounds overweight, but this you find to be "positively dangerous."
       Having dealt with specific objections, I note once again you've cited not a shred of evidence that I or anyone else has exaggerated the threat of obesity, hence you appear to grant your book is terribly irresponsible in pooh-poohing it.
       Yes, in my final chapter I do say that obesity is symptomatic of larger societal problems. That includes a society that has moved away from value judgments, and hence has replaced "glutton" with "big-eater," and "sloth" with "couch potato." It includes one in which parents feel as helpless in telling their child they can't dye their hair green as in telling them they shouldn't watch five hours of TV a day or eat Twinkies for breakfast. It includes one that values a false sense of self-esteem over accomplishment, so that while we have books called Self-Esteem Comes in All Sizes and fat-acceptance groups called "The Network for Self-Esteem," we also have students who rank practically last in the industrialized world in math but believe themselves to rank first. It includes one that has so lost its sense of shame that people speak of "fat pride," as if overeating and under-exercising were on a par with winning a Rhodes scholarship. Unlike you, Richard, I am not a child of the "flower generation" and will have no part in perpetuating the madness it has wrought.
       You incorrectly state my position on the government's role regarding obesity. Indeed, I recently published an op-ed in Investor's Business Daily stating, "The best the government can do is to use its health officials to educate us." As I stated on Page 261: "Nobody's arguing that it should be illegal to be such a glutton and such a sloth that you can't get around without an electric scooter. [Like Chef Paul Prudhomme.] But neither should we pretend that it's a choice on a par with picking a red car over a blue one." I declare clearly that it is society's role, because society has traditionally molded behavior by approving certain actions and disapproving others. When society stops playing this role, there's often hell to pay. Such was the case when we de-stigmatized unwed pregnancy and then watched unwed-pregnancy rates shoot through the roof, thereafter causing jumps in crime, poverty, and other social ills.
       We have been witnessing an accelerating campaign to break down this role, to de-stigmatize obesity and its causes. Examples range from People magazine covers proclaiming "Who Says Size Counts!" to the Body Shop adopting a 300-pound Barbie clone as a mascot, to your book Eat Fat. Even Barbie herself is being fattened up to be "contemporary"! While these are only factors in the obesity epidemic, they are important ones. As I stated on Page 263, "Let me emphasize that this doesn't mean oppressing fat people." It does mean stigmatizing the activities that lead to fatness (such as sloth and gluttony) and insisting that obesity is not a cause for pride.
       The day before I wrote this, I received the latest government figures on U.S. obesity, and yes, once again, they're worse than ever. U.S. obesity has increased by over 50 percent in the last 17 years. Among the youngest age group for which data are available (people aged 20-29), it has increased almost 60 percent. That we don't know "the whole truth about America's obesity," any more than we know the whole truth about how smoking kills or what HIV does to the immune system, should not prevent us from being appalled and anguished at such figures. Sadly, obviously you are not.

Michael Fumento