Murc Marc makes an argument that was inevitable in any thread about the obesity myth:
And then he claims (in other contexts) that it’s impossible to lose weight – ignoring things like the fact that we used to weigh a lot less than we did, or the fact that people in different countries with different diets have very different mean weights and distributions of weight.
As I noted, this is just a non-sequitur; nobody’s arguing that individual weight loss is literally impossible, but it is in fact highly unlikely. The cultural conditions that led to people weighing less on average can’t easily be replicated. Nor, to put it mildly, is it obvious that people were healthier when they were thinner on average.
Murc Marc then responds:
But the difference is very relevant in deciding, say, whether or not we should serve soda pop in schools. Or whether we should promote exercise, or whether we should subsidize vegetables and tax soda.
Not only is it not in fact relevant to these decisions, focusing on weight is transparently counterproductive. Increased exercise and more balanced diets will not, in most cases, make fat people thin. The way
Murc Marc posits the question strongly implies that because of this, we should in fact forget trying to make it easier for people to exercise and eat balanced diets, because in the vast majority of cases it won’t “work.” But this is completely wrong, because in fact exercise and eating balanced diets are inherently good things, regardless of whether they transform the look of one’s body or not. (For that matter, having a sedentary lifestyle that involves a lot of bad food isn’t good for you even if your metabolism allows you to remain thin.) Framing the question this way, with weight loss rather than health being the assumed goal, does helpfully illustrate Paul’s point that the obesity myth is about class-related aesthetic preferences in search of a scientific rationalization. Believing that regular exercise is worth doing only if it leads to substantial permanent weight loss doesn’t make any sense if you care about health, but it certainly makes sense if you don’t particularly care about marginal differences in health outcomes for complete strangers but have a strong conviction that fat people are icky. (My favorite recent example of this would have to remain Michael Kinsley and Eugene Robinson arguing that Chris Christie is unqualified to be president, while Paul Ryan apparently is.)
…Atrios puts the point about the perverse incentives here perfectly: “People should eat well and get regular exercise, but actually losing weight and keeping it off is very difficult. If people are focused on that, they’re likely to get discouraged and give up on the exercise and healthy eating.”