Oh, Alex

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I am a great admirer of Alex Beam. I used to edit his columns some times, and I would invariably need to look up a word, which in his case I always admired: he used the words appropriately, and I never sensed he was showing off by using the higher-priced word.

More substantively, I've always been able to rely on Alex for entertainment and unique perspective. Though unlike with his word choices, I haven't always been convinced his contrarianism was organic, is he not a columnist? He's supposed to be provocative.

But with his column this week on obesity, he was a bonehead in the extreme, from the very second line. (I'm just going to skip over his use of "fatties" in the first line.)

"We knew for years that the same forces of social engineering that marginalized American smokers would eventually target fat people..." Alex writes, continuing in a bad direction. Efforts to reduce obesity in America may involve social engineering, but public health is a serious issue that perhaps should be engineered. Not only is the nation's fitness a sum of individual fitness, but high health-care costs incurred by rampant obesity are borne by all eventually.

He scoffs that school systems are removing soda machines from school corridors "with Robespierrian ardor," as if soda machines ever belonged in schools at all. He further scoffs that the machines now dispense fruit juice, which he says have twice as much sugar as soda. That's the wrong point — the machines just shouldn't be there at all. They are there only because soft-drink companies are willing to pay school districts for the access, and that revenue funds purchases that would otherwise have to come from student fees or tax increases. Is it good governance to fund student-activity purchases at the cost of students' health? 

Alex relies heavily on the comments of Paul Campos, a law professor at the University of Colorado and author of “The Obesity Myth.’’ I concede I didn't look much beyond his Wikipedia page, but I have to question anyone who started with a title like that.

You go to the mall. Do you think obesity is a myth?

This quote does little for his credibility as well: “Obesity has been hijacked by the debate over socialized medical care, which has everything to do with our cultural obsession with body weight and nothing to do with medicine.’’

Yikes, it's one bonehead talking to another!

Obesity has been exploding for 50 years in this country, long before anyone hijacked any debate, if indeed that's even true. I don't disagree about the cultural obsession with body weight, but it is a sideshow to the health questions. This isn't a freakin' style war.

I have lost friends who died of their obesity, or its consequences — they knew it was ruining their lives, but they couldn't/wouldn't/didn't arrest it. Obesity is suicide on the installment plan, which means that before it takes its final toll, it degrades life quality for those who have it: Shortness of breath, joint pain, societal scorn, isolation, and a dozen other noxious consequences. Even for those who don't die early, obesity is an lousy existence.

(To those for whom it matters, note that I didn't use the word "victim," or say they have "fallen prey" to it. No matter how someone has developed obesity, I believe that personal responsibility is the way out. It wasn't until I took responsibility for my own health that I overcame my obesity. I needed a lot of help, but I had to pursue and accept it before I got better.)

During the column, Alex reveals that he's got a BMI of 29, which the government's Centers for Disease Control considers overweight. I haven't seen him for a while, but I've never thought he had a weight problem, and as I say, I have some experience with weight problems. I can't help but wonder if Alex's being in that category, justly or not, has given rise to this column. 

Regardless, he blew it, big time, with this one. Obesity has huge costs, individuallyand collectively. Socially, morally, and politically, we should be working to reduce its costs, not making light.

Author and wellness innovator Michael Prager helps smart companies
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