I’m still catching up from TLT’s spring break and wanted to share (for those who missed it) this piece by Charles Blow which appeared two weeks ago in the Sunday New York Times. Blow examined the results of a recent Pew Research Center poll which asked, “Should the government have a significant role in reducing childhood obesity?” Nearly 60% of respondents said yes, which represents a 20% increase since the same question was asked in 2005.
Blow discusses the various reasons for the uptick, but also notes how the numbers break down on racial and political lines:
. . . only 49 percent of whites, 45 percent of the elderly, 41 percent of Republicans and 33 percent of those who agree with the Tea Party movement also agreed with the majority on this question. “Their Nanny State is trying to control our Kitchens!”
Why should this be, especially when obesity among whites is highest in the nation in Southern red states like West Virginia, Missisippi and Alabama? Shouldn’t these states, presumably hard hit by obesity-related costs, care more about obesity prevention than any others?
Blow thinks it’s not the anti-obesity message but the identity of the messenger at work — in this case, President and First Lady Obama, both of whom have made childhood obesity a public cause. Says Blow:
True to form, anything the Obamas support, no matter how innocuous or admirable, the right reflexively rejects, sometimes in malicious tones.
Blow’s piece echos my own speculation here a few months ago. In describing a right wing video that attacked Ms. Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative, I posited that the anti-obesity movement has become a right wing target for a variety of reasons, including having the Obamas attached to it:
My sense is that we’ve hit upon a perfect storm of sorts: the financial interests of Big Agriculture and Big Food are part if it, surely, but we also have a society in which, as Marion Nestle noted, [j]unk food and obesity are key indicators of political divisions in our society. For starters, junk food is cheap and obesity is more common among low-income populations.” In addition, we have a President who has been easily portrayed by his opponents as a champion of Big Government, determined to trample on individual freedoms (as well as pedantic and elitist), while Michelle Obama is portrayed as harsh and militant.
Add to all of that the basic human impulse to eat stuff that’s not great for us (and to resent people who tell us to do otherwise) and it’s no wonder that (as the Washington Post piece put it) “‘Don’t let them take away your Big Mac!’ becomes a rallying cry.”
For more thoughts on this issue, be sure to also check out Marion Nestle’s recent post on Blow’s piece.