Obesity has found a new nemesis. Beware the OECD.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) was formed five decades ago in Paris, France. The United States is one of 33 nations belonging to this international body; but just what the OECD does that benefits or even affects the average American has, until now, been difficult to say. Its mission is high-sounding enough, to be sure; to “bring together the governments of countries committed to democracy and the market economy . . . to raise living standards, maintain financial stability,” and other entirely laudable goals.
To this exciting list of goals can now be added another – to save the world from obesity; to shrink an overweight industrialized world; to strike a blow for skinniness! Yes, the OECD has entered the fray to battle obesity everywhere, but in the United States especially.
The new anti-obesity manifesto is laid out in a recently-published study by the OECD, entitled “Obesity and the Economics of Prevention – Fit Not Fat.” The opus will provide grist for discussions at an international conference of health ministers in Paris later this week. And Uncle Sam will likely come under withering caloric fire.
The reason the U.S. will be the brunt of many OECD jokes this week is that, according to the authors of the obesity study, America can lay claim to the dubious honor of being the fattest nation around; more obese, even, than our ancestral home, the United Kingdom, and far pudgier than our primary economic adversaries on the world stage – China, Russia, India, Germany, Japan and Brazil. Interestingly, our neighbor to the south – Mexico – is only slightly less obese as a nation than we are; so its citizens apparently are not rushing across our border simply to gain weight.
An almost certain champion of the OECD study will be Michelle Obama, who is leading the all-American calories crusade from her pulpit as First Lady. It is also likely the OECD missive will be made required reading for top civilian and military officials at the Pentagon, where a recent study, “Mission: Readiness,” concluded that obesity has become a serious national security concern. This particular study was prepared by a group of retired flag-grade officers, and painted a dim picture of America’s youth, because of soaring rates of obesity.
Of course, most advocates for a healthier populace, from the First Lady to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, turn to government to pull our fat out of the fire, so to speak. Congress is under increasing pressure to pass a multi-billion dollar “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act” to set new federal benchmarks for thinner kids and throw beau coup of dollars to help solve the problem. Mayor Bloomberg’s solution is less costly to New York’s taxpayers, but far more draconian; he believes in simply passing laws outlawing foods or ingredients he deems unhealthy.
Farmers and producers of vegetables, which contribute little if any to the “obesity epidemic” against which all these national and international forces are arrayed, just can’t seem to get much traction as an alternative to the fattier foodstuffs most people find more tasty. Expensive ad campaigns and placing vegetable vending machines in schools and other locations just doesn’t seem to work. On the other hand, even though trans fats are banned in New York City, donut connoisseurs still find ways to smuggle Krispy Kremes in from New Jersey.
What the folks in Washington, in New York, and at the OECD don’t seem to get is that governments are and always will be ill-suited to be guardians of our diets. Good eating habits start at home; with good parenting and with strict parenting. Fewer two-parent households and less-educated parents tend to lead to fatter kids. Unless that situation is rectified, all the legislation and studies in the world won’t significantly shrink America’s waistline.