So, you're one of the 190 million Americans who are overweight.
You're trying to shed the extra pounds, but your resolve is under daily assault. The all-you-can-eat buffets. The convenience of drive-through. Supersizing. The comfort of fat and sugar. The lure of the couch.
Deborah Ortiz, state senator; John D. Graham, federal regulator; Richard Banzhaf, attorney; Margo Wootan, nutritionist and government activist. There are more, too, but you probably don't know them. But they are on your case, filing briefs, drafting legislation, writing memos and holding news conferences. Determined to help you and your loved ones lose that weight and keep it off.
They are the new warriors in a national fight against fat, and they have decided that it takes a village to trim a waistline. If the increase in obesity is to be reversed, they believe, Americans must have better exercise venues, more nutritional information and improved access to healthy food that is as inexpensive and convenient as the stuff that helped to make us fat. Overweight consumers should be offered incentives to help lose the extra poundage. And government should help in the fight.
Representatives of the food and restaurant industries deride these fat fighters as scolds and food cops, bent on inviting Big Brother to America's meals and celebrations.
"The public is just not prepared to be dictated to in this regard," says Richard Berman, executive director of the Center for Consumer Freedom, an advocacy group supported by about 150 restaurant and food companies.
Americans want easy, affordable meals and tasty snacks, Berman says, dismissing claims that the food industry is tricking consumers into unhealthful eating habits. All of us know, he says, that if we eat too much and don't exercise enough, we're going to get fat. And we also know how to lose the weight.
Your weight-loss team, however, is undeterred.
Margo Wootan, of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest, says that at the end of a decade in which obesity rates have risen 50%, the time has come for government activism in the fight against fat. Excess weight and obesity contribute to the premature deaths of 300,000 Americans annually -- not far behind tobacco's yearly death toll of 430,000.
Fat is the fastest-growing cause of disease and death in the United States today, and that has set off alarms bells in every quarter of government, Wootan says.
"We'll see more," she predicts -- more litigation, more debate and more lawmaking, from Washington on down to local school boards. Americans, she contends, will welcome the help. "Most people want to eat better, but they find it difficult."
Your new fat-fighting allies plan to wield a few sticks -- carrot or otherwise -- as well. After all, if fat is the new Public Enemy No. 1, then those who do not join the fight (and who cost the country $117 billion per year in additional health-care costs) may need more inducement to get on board.
In the brave new world that public health activists hope to create, you would pay a special tax on Ho Hos, Big Macs and other foods high in fats or sugar. An obese person would pay more for health insurance than someone of appropriate weight and would have no legal recourse if passed over for a job because of their weight. And your favorite junk food would return to the test kitchen to have its fat removed because its manufacturer would be worried about being sued.
And everywhere you would turn for a bite, whether at restaurants or at home, you would see fat and calorie counts and consumer warnings. Imagine, in small type, something like, "The surgeon general has warned that excessive consumption of foods high in fat and calories will lead to obesity, which is associated with increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and certain kinds of cancers."
If the warning sounds familiar, it's no coincidence. Lawyers, lawmakers and activists determined to reduce obesity have modeled their campaign on the nation's anti-tobacco crusade -- a nearly 40-year effort that has helped drive down smoking among American adults from about 42% in 1965 to about 25% today.
The starting place for both movements is the same as well. In 1964, U.S. Surgeon General Luther L. Terry set the cornerstone for what would become a national anti-smoking movement, calling cigarette smoking a "health hazard" and a matter of "national concern." In December 2001, Surgeon General David Satcher issued a "call to action" on obesity, and the fat-fighting movement has built on that foundation.
Noting that being overweight and obese "may soon cause as much preventable disease and death as cigarette smoking," Satcher added that "there is much that communities can and should do to address these problems."
Richard Banzhaf, a mild-mannered George Washington University law professor and anti-tobacco crusader, heard Satcher's call and thought he might have the answer. Banzhaf gathered together public health activists and trial lawyers in the summer of 2002 to discuss fighting fat the public policy way.
Since then, Banzhaf has been cajoling attorneys across the nation to drag fast-food chains and snack-food giants into court and make them pay for making us fat.