Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Freedom to Eat

California banned restaurants from using oils that contain trans-fats today. That means certain kinds of shortening (FYI reformulated Crisco has zero-trans-fats) and margarine are banned. Now, conservatives usually rail against the "Nanny State" when they want to avoid sensible restrictions on the right of big business to pollute or the right to treat workers badly. Libertarians have also raised such concerns with seatbelts and motorcycle helmets, even though (1) the clear purpose of these rules is to save the public from having to pay to keep them alive as vegetavles, and (2) the connection between seatbelts and car accident fatalities is ironclad. Let's leave these faux criticisms behind.

The connection between trans-fats and medical bills is based on broad correlative studies at best. It is some sort of minor risk factor. Apparently, trans-fats are correlated with an increase in LDL cholesterol in some patients. That cholestorol number is also correlated with heart disease among Americans (but not, famously, among the French. Note that this is not about eating French food: the data actually show that French with the same level of cholesterol have lower heart disease risks than Americans).

When did the government take it upon itself to regulate our diets based on such flimsy evidence? 10 years ago, margarine was praised and butter reviled. Butter is the new health food? Can any scientist really say, with a straight face, that the social cost of lard is exceeded by that of margarine? Does the flavor play any role in this calculation, or are we meant to exclude pleasure (or a decent pie crust) from cost-benefit analysis?

And why doesn't the government do something, instead, about salmonella in our vegetables and all the other food issues we've discussed on this blog. Banning transfats will not make us healthier, I assure you. It is just a sop to the dairy industry. God bless them.


Dr. Strangelove said...

Given the weak medical evidence, I certainly would have preferred a requirement to label rather than an outright ban. But this was not about medical evidence. While banning trans-fats was technically about cholesterol, it was really trumpeted as a way to fight "obesity" in our society.

Of course, replacing trans-fat with other fat does nothing to cut calories. Like counting carbs, it is another fad with tenuous relationship to reality. You can blame fast-food restaurants for providing fattening food, but the free market is only giving the people what they want. (What are you going to do--ban food? Ration calories?) People overeat for the same reason they drink and take drugs: because it makes them feel good, if only for a little while.

I believe there are two different "epidemics" of obesity, with two different causes.

If you want to end the epidemic among children, the only role of government is to ensure that schools offer only healthful food. Beyond that, it is up to the children and their parents to control diets--we just want to make sure we don't ruin that while the government is acting in loco parentis.

If you want to end the epidemic of obesity among adults, cut the workweek down to 30 hours and enforce it. The real solution is for adults to lead an active and healthy lifestyle--so give us the time and energy to do that! Most days I come home mentally exhausted--not only do I work fulltime but I commute almost an hour each way. After a long day, the idea of going to the gym or going for a run feels like climbing a mountain--and even more poignant, that feels like a lousy way to spend the few precious waking hours I have left for myself. My partner has it even worse, working long hours on his feet all day, with a similar commute, but at least his job entails a form of exercise. Anyhow, when we get home, we eat dinner together and watch TV together--then we set the alarm, go to sleep, and start the whole cycle over again. If I could take public transport--avoiding the stress of driving--and also have two more hours to myself each day, I could do so much more!

It is no mystery to me that the French are healthier. Their society is healthier.

USWest said...

Actually, they are now studying the role of stress in obesity. They are linking this to cortisol in our systems. This chemical basically shuts down bodily functioning, including digestion and the immune system, when confronted with danger. This allows all energy to be directed toward escape from threat. Stress in our daily lives assaults us non-stop daily. After awhile, this breaks us down and we get sick and fat.

I am aware that many people have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet and they don't have down time. But since I do have the ability to make a choice, I do. I try very hard to keep the work/life ratio in balance. And I do say no to my employer when I feel that balance is being breached. But no everyone can do that. However, I encourage all of those who can to take back control of their work schedule. I think many "work alcoholics" convince themselves that they have to sacrifice their lives on the alter of work when that is not really the case.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Actually, many workaholics are right. In many jobs, you have to be a workaholic to get ahead. It is a source constant guilt for me, that I do not wish to do the workaholic thing.

Pombat said...

Depends on your definition of "get ahead" LTG. I think that if you add up the guilt you feel year by year in order to have a 'total guilt' figure you'll find that you'll have way less guilt on your deathbed, than the regrets and guilt the workaholics will have, because you chose to balance your work and personal lives in order to spend time with your family and be there for LTB as she grows up, in addition to simply having some life of your own. FWIW, I'm all for non-workaholism.

More companies need to wake up to the fact that working longer hours doesn't necessarily make for a better employee: they're typically more stressed (= higher medical bills / greater chance of not being available to work in later life); they often have less people skills due to not having as much purely social interaction; they often make bad managers, especially of people who prioritise balance, as they don't understand, and thus pressurise their staff into being like them; and they burn out. In later years, they tend to have more "why didn't I ...?" regrets than the more balanced people, and if they've had children/gotten married, tend to end up with dysfunctional relationships with them/divorced, due to not having been there for them.

If more people took the non-workaholic option, said no to stupid hours & stress, and insisted on balancing their lives, then we'd have happier, stronger workforces, and eventually virtually eliminate the guilt people like you feel, due to having gotten rid of the long hours culture.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Problem is, I'm a Yankee. Our puritanism runs deep. In my garden, for example, all my plants are herbs, vegetables, or fruit-bearing: no non-productive pretty things for me. I would hazard that a long tradition of slaveholding has made relative indolence less problematic in the South, or the lack of air conditioning, but such historico-sociological explanations are usually bunk.