Fraser Obesity Report: Let Them Stop Eating Cake

Lizette Elumir, MD. Family Doctor, Calgary, AB

Lizette Elumir, MD. Family Doctor, Calgary, AB

Today’s post is a response to the recent Fraser Institute’s report on obesity, sent to me by Lizetter Elumir, a family doctor in Calgary, Alberta, who is currently doing her residency in Public Health.

Let them eat cake [brioche].” Though the originator of this quote is doubtful, the message is clear. Would one claim that impoverished 18th century French people had strong incentives to eat and “hardly need[ed] the government to give them additional incentives” to eat bread?

A prominent governmental organization decided that one of their objectives was to improve the mobility and independence of low-income, poorly mobile, isolated seniors. A walking program was started – the organizers set themselves up in an affluent mall and served refreshments, perhaps even cake. It was poorly attended. The organizers decided that these seniors were not choosing to improve their isolation and mobility despite the strong incentive to do so and therefore, the governmental organization abandoned the program.

The Fraser institute is a prominent think tank in Canada, priding itself on its independent, impartial research. A quote from its recent report, Obesity in Canada, reads:

Finally, and perhaps most critically, it is likely that most obese individuals realize they are heavy and that they may be making diet and lifestyle choices that keep them obese. They also have strong reasons to drop their excess weight including social stigma, reduced incomes, and the health risks associated with the excess weight. As Marlow and Abdukadirov note, “[the obese] hardly need the government to give them additional incentives to lose weight. People aware of their mistakes also have strong incentives to correct them.

Obesity in Canada

I recognize that different philosophies exist. The Fraser Institute is a big proponent of personal responsibility. Therefore, poor people should just eat cake, obese people should stop eating cake and elderly people should attend a walking program and they may even get some free cake. I am not demanding that the Fraser Institute change their philosophy. However, is it a mystery to you why seniors did not jump out of their wheelchairs to attend the well-intentioned walking program? Do you ever wonder why this little thing called the French Revolution occurred? Or why prominent obesity experts recoil in horror when reading this Obesity in Canada report?

I feel the need to quote another misquoted, misattributed saying: “With great power comes great responsibility.” If the Fraser Institute aims to publish thoughtful, accurate and measured information to influence public policy in a meaningful way, then its responsibility is also to provide balanced information. Or, at the very least, not oblivious information.

The Fraser Institute is in the business of improving the welfare of individuals. If its researchers employed the rigorous research methodology that it boasts, the institute would discover that the shame and blame game is generally not an effective way of doing that.