Monday, April 24, 2006 | FAT IS THE NEW SMOKING Here's How The Public Health War On Obesity Will Unfold | FAT IS THE NEW SMOKING Here's How The Public Health War On Obesity Will Unfold:

"FAT IS THE NEW SMOKING Here's How The Public Health War On Obesity Will Unfold
April 23, 2006
By William Saletan

Goodbye, war on smoking. Hello, war on fat.

In a span of two months, smoking bans have been imposed in Scotland, enacted in England, Denmark and Uruguay, proposed by the government of Portugal and endorsed by the French public. China has banned new cigarette factories. In Virginia, our third most prolific tobacco-producing state, senators voted to ban smoking in nearly all public places. The Arkansas legislature, backed by a Republican governor, passed a similar ban and voted to extend this policy to cars in which a child is present. Tobacco companies have won a few skirmishes, but always in retreat.

So we've found a new enemy: obesity. Two years ago, the U.S. government discovered that the targets of previous crusades - booze, sex, guns and cigarettes - were killing a smaller percentage of Americans than they used to. The one thing you're not allowed to do in a culture war is win it, so we searched the mortality data for the next big menace.

The answer was as plain as the other chin on your face. Obesity, federal officials told us, would soon surpass tobacco as the chief cause of preventable death. They compared it to the Black Death and the Asian tsunami. They sent a team of 'disease detectives' to West Virginia to investigate an obesity outbreak. Last month, Surgeon General Richard Carmona called obesity 'the terror within' and said it would 'dwarf 9/11.'

How do we fight it? Everyone agrees on exercise and eating responsibly. The debate is over what the government should do. Health advocates want to restrict junk food sales, regulate advertising, require more explicit labels and ban trans fats (also known as partially hydrogenated oils), which are often put into crackers, cookies and other products to prolong shelf life.

They marshal the kind of evidence that won the war on smoking: correlations between soda, junk food, obesity, disease and death.

Lawyers who made their fortunes suing tobacco companies are preparing lawsuits against soda companies. Two months ago, when President Bush gave a health care speech at the headquarters of Wendy's, activists compared the hamburger chain to Philip Morris. They see themselves waging the same brave struggle, this time against 'the food industry.'"

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