Where politics is personal not partisan

No, Totalitarianism Is Not a Solution to Obesity

James Cracknell
No, Totalitarianism Is Not a Solution to Obesity

A prospective British parliamentary candidate, and former Olympian, has declared that two totalitarian regimes have a handle on the obesity problem.

Obesity was the lynchpin of former First Lady Michelle Obama’s tenure in the White House.  She headed up the “Let’s Move!” public health campaign to tackle childhood obesity.  The numbers are startling: 30% of American children are overweight or obese; those numbers increase to 40% when looking solely at African-American and Hispanic children.  Adults don’t fare any better.  The CDC reports nearly 37% of adults are obese.  Obesity-related health conditions include heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and other preventable diseases and the condition costs $147 billion in medical expenses. Obesity has been called an “epidemic” and a “national security risk” as people keep adding on the pounds amid readily available food, and increasingly sedentary lifestyles.  While the federal government and states work to combat obesity, former Olympian and UK parliamentary candidate James Cracknell has spoken out about the issue.

Cracknell describes himself as a “couch potato child” who was shaped like a triangle.  As a young teen, he took up rowing and lost the weight.  Cracknell went on to win Olympic gold in Sydney (2000) and Athens (2004).  In the UK, children are becoming less active, obesity rates for both adults (62.9%) and children (34%) are higher than the US.  They see many of the same weight-related health problems, which places a burden on the already strained National Health Service (NHS).

Like Michelle Obama, and droves of other politicians before him, Cracknell has made combating obesity a plank in his parliamentary campaign platform, and he has some interesting and unique views on what nations have done the best when it comes to beating back obesity.

The aspiring Tory MP has praised both North Korea and Cuba as examples of countries who “got a handle on obesity.” From Gizmodo:

“If you think of the two countries in the world who’ve got a handle on obesity, what do you think they are, which two countries?” Cracknell asked a Sky News presenter:

“I’m stumped there, I don’t know,” the presenter said.

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“North Korea and Cuba,” Cracknell said proudly.

The presenters all take a moment to wait for the punchline, or something, and then kind of politely agree before realizing that he’s serious.  Cracknell insists that these dictatorial regimes influence “behavioral change.”

“Behavioral change.”  Yes, you read that right.  Two of the world’s most brutal and dictatorial communist regimes have successfully beat back obesity by forcing behavioral change on their populations.

In Cuba, food is rationed.  Each Cuban gets seven pounds of rice, a pound of beans, a half a bottle of cooking oil, one bread roll per day, and small quantities of eggs, chicken/fish, spaghetti, and sugar. Children get milk and yogurt.  People with health problems and vulnerable populations, including pregnant women, get extra rations.  After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuban imports on food fell by 75% and the average Cuban lost 20 pounds.  This lasted for a decade.

In North Korea, things are worse.  The already malnourished population saw its rations decreased to 360 grams per day in 2016, far shorter than the United Nations recommendation and North Korea’s own goal of 600 and 573 grams, respectively.  18 million people are starving and reports abound that Kim Jong-Un is using money to build up his nuclear arsenal rather than feed his people.

Both countries are oppressive in what their people can read, say, think, and do.  In North Korea, only a handful of styles are on the approved haircut lists for men and women.  In Cuba, cars older than most millennials are the only mode of transportation.  Failure to appease the regime and fall in line can mean additional punishment from the government or execution.  But these are the two nations Cracknell holds up as a shining example of countries that have tackled obesity.  He applauds them and glosses over their iron fists as merely exacting “behavioral change” in their populations.

Why didn’t he include Venezuela in the mix? They’re on the same path – with massive food shortages that prompted government mandates on farm labor.  It’s diet and exercise!  One step above Cuba and North Korea.  And what do North Korea and Venezuela get for their efforts?  An average life expectancy lower than the US, with Cuba about the same.  Diseases of different types – usually those that thrive in unsanitary, overcrowded, malnourished populations – still exist.

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Cracknell doesn’t realize that what he admires are not, in fact, behavioral changes.  If a limitless food supply were to suddenly appear in Pyongyang or Havana, the people starving in those countries would not restrain themselves.  After years of starvation and thinning government rations, they would take and eat whatever they could get their hands on.  In both the US and UK, grocery store shelves are full of food and both places scarcely worry about a shortage or rations.  There is an abundance of food.  True behavioral change comes when people – surrounded with such abundance – make the choice to eat smaller portions, avoid processed foods, or stock up on fruits and vegetables rather than chips and soda. The only way the obesity problems will end – in both the UK and the US – is if people themselves choose to end those problems through the tried and true methods of portion control and exercise.  A choice Cracknell himself made, even if not consciously, when he took up rowing with his friends as a boy, and a choice many Cubans and North Koreans would certainly prefer.

Other politicians have tried to discourage such consumption through taxes on junk food and bans on salt and large drinks.  They all share this fantasy that enough government can compel the right choices and make them permanent lifestyles.  Cracknell just took that mentality to its inevitable conclusion.

Is Cracknell endorsing Cuban-style rations in the UK?  Probably not, but his comments show a man who thinks the solutions to obesity and behavioral choices are best sought through government coercion and force rather than through education and personal choice.  He’s certainly cut from a politician’s cloth in that regard.

Featured image: Policy Exchange (CC)

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Amy Curtis
About Amy Curtis 18 Articles
I am a mom, nursing student, and conservatarian. I've been a teacher and have a MA in English. I live in Milwaukee, WI (for now) and look forward to starting fresh in a new city soon. When I'm not working or in class, look for me soon at The Binge!

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