http://www.opinion.telegraph.co.uk/...xml&sSheet=/opinion/2004/01/19/ixopinion.html Fat chance for freedom with the obesity lobby in full cry By Barbara Amiel (Filed: 19/01/2004) President Bush is going to make the world safe for fat people. This policy has not made headlines in the Democratic primaries, but of all the programmes spewing out of the White House these pre-election months, it is ultimately the most important. Washington's plump pride initiative pits it against the alliance of the EU, the UN and NGOs who have found another evil for which to blame America and George Bush - a worldwide obesity problem. According to the International Obesity Task Force (an NGO associated with the World Health Organisation), one in three Americans is obese as well as at least 16 per cent of British teenagers, not to mention the remaining 300 million obese people in the world the task force appear to have counted. The world is gorging on American fast food and American gadgetry. They are sitting watching television or playing on computers when they should be exercising; taking lifts instead of the stairs; driving not bicycling. They are getting fat. This week, the International Obesity Task Force will discuss its new 160-page report, several years in the making. The report dislikes the usual things - sugar, salts, saturated fat, technology and modern farming. It paints a disastrous picture of a world in which children don't go to bed hungry at night: they go to bed too full of fast food and chocolate bars. This cruel Earth is a planet where we die of cancers, heart disease or diabetes caused or exacerbated by our bad eating habits. Life, as someone must have said, is a bit of a crap shoot. We all have to die of something and we must be the first generation to want to die in perfect health. But lifespan remains mysterious. There are fat 80-year-olds who stuff themselves with sausages and have more energy and mental acuity than people half their age. There are thin joggers who die prematurely of heart disease and non-smokers who get cancer. Perhaps some diseases can be directly attributed to a specific cause, such as asbestos; still, it all seems a bit doubtful. Obesity is gearing up as the next great crusade following tobacco. It's a natural for the regulators of the world. Food habits are directly connected to the fertile area of "lifestyle", which lives near Regulatory Paradise. Of course, there is nothing wrong with trying to do things right: healthy foods and exercise are clearly A Good Thing. Children ought to have proper lunches and not only crisps and Maryland cookies. Serious diseases that are very food-sensitive, such as diabetes, are obviously something to try to prevent - if at all possible. The problem is how to do this. The anti-obesity crowd is targeting, among other things, advertising of the wrong foods for children. They want extra taxes on foods they consider bad. Hello again to a salt tax. However, there seems to be one obstacle: the Bush administration has questioned the study's science and recommendations. The US government, wrote a spokesman in a 30-page critique, "promotes the view that all foods can be part of a healthy and balanced diet, and supports personal responsibility to choose a diet conducive to individual energy balance, weight control and health". With this, America invoked four words banned in Brussels and UN corridors: "personal responsibility", "individual" and "choose". The combination provoked "Obesites" into a state of extraordinary anger - caused, one is tempted to say, by too little sugar and too much soy. Neville Rigby of the task force accused the Bush administration of holding such regressive views because of the sugar lobby and the campaign contributions it gives to Republicans. "Effectively," he said, "what we are seeing is an effort to sabotage the whole [WHO] process.'' Looking through the report, one is struck by the presumption of its authors. They quite blithely believe that, as they have people's wellbeing in mind, they naturally have absolute licence to direct the minutest details of their activities. A tyrant of antiquity would not have presumed to micro-manage his subjects' lives the way this lot does. Their report is not simply about food habits. It's not even just an attack on modern culture. It's an attack on the post-paleolithic period. Mankind's first big mis-step was coming off the trees. The authors don't like "animal-based foods" or "intensive" farming methods. They want "traditional animal husbandry" so as not to "exert greater environmental pressures". They prefer people to go back to "traditional diets" with more legumes and fruit. They would like farmers to market their products "directly to consumers". They want "priority" in urban planning to pedestrians and bicycles. They want breast-feeding. Health food strategies "should explicitly address equality and diminish disparities this requires a strong role for government". There are plans for alliances and admonitions to avoid "individual industries that may wish to capitalize on change for their own benefit". I suppose these people may have some technical interest in food but only as a tool for social engineering. Sometimes fashions of the times collide. The children's rights lobby cut down sports under the rubric of disliking competition and enabling children to make their own decisions. The obesity lobby wants to make physical activity for children compulsory again. They will have to fight it out - which is in itself a "traditional" activity and certainly calorically healthy. Meanwhile, people simply can't be allowed to go on enjoying their big portions of meat and the convenience of fast pre-packaged foods. In the words of the report, we need "a surveillance system" and "effective interventions" "to change people's behaviour". Interpreting the report is not difficult. A return to the hunting and gathering society may not be possible but it is the shimmering ideal. If the 19th-century American slogan was "Go west, young man," the 21st's obesity/environmentalist credo can be summed up as "back to the stone age".' Watching Mr Rigby on the BBC World News, which was suitably outraged by America's response to his report, one could see the divide. We may be eliminating poverty, hunger and dirt, but progress obviously creates other issues. We have problems of industrial pollution, high energy consumption, education, traffic congestion, obesity, you name it. But all of this could be solved if only we could get rid of the notion of liberty. There's the rub. At the bottom of all that pains the UN, the EU and the NGOs is this damnable problem of people free to choose their own books, music, food, activities and lifestyles. That's why the American response to the task force is so important - they are on the other side of the divide, supporting free choice. And somewhere, one hopes, between the mad libertarians who would eliminate traffic lights and these lifestyle commissars who would eliminate traffic, there must be an equilibrium. As an interim measure, the EU will outlaw sugar and fat people. If that doesn't work, there is always the next step. We can go back to that great European practice of the Middle Ages - famine. There is nothing in the world that a good dose of "traditional" European undernourishment couldn't cure.