Old Man on a Bike in North Korea

Does North Korea “Have a Handle” on Obesity?

Implicit bias has a way of slipping out from time to time. On the subject of obesity, an aspiring British politician let it slip earlier this week. James Cracknell named North Korea and Cuba as “the two countries of the world that have got a handle on obesity.”

“They are quite controlling on behavioural change,” he said.

Cracknell is an Olympic rower planning to run for a seat in the British Parliament. He wants to use obesity as a core issue. He offered his comments during an interview with Sky News. On Twitter, he later apologized for “trying to make a point that came out badly.”

Enforcing Behavioral Change

Of course, North Korea and Cuba are totalitarian states that have faced massive food shortages over many years. Tight government control of food supplies in Cuba has caused persistent problems with getting basic staples to the people. In North Korea, the problem has been much worse. Famines and starvation have killed millions there.

Honestly, though, the callousness of Cracknell’s comments differ only by degree from some other rhetoric about obesity.

For example, zealous advocates dismiss concerns that soda taxes are regressive by saying that “diabetes is regressive.” That’s clever rhetoric to push right past the problem of adding insult to injury. Taxing people who are already economically stressed is not helpful. But even more stunning is the hypocrisy of taxing downscale sodas in Philly, while exempting upscale lattes that often contain more sugar.

Likewise, some people see no problem with sending “fat letters” home from school. Those letters offer more humiliation than help. But if it’s not your problem, it sounds good.

Beware of pretty words used to dress up policies that might do more harm than good.

Click here for more from the Huffington Post.

Old Man on a Bike in North Korea, photograph © Juliana Cunha / flickr

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April 20, 2017

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