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Sweet Tea = Liquid Sugar”
• “Hamburgers = Spare Tire”
• “Doughnuts = Diabetes”
• “Dunkin’ Doughnuts = Death”
• “America Dies On Dunkin’”

It was these last two pronouncements that created the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back – because there was a county commissioner who owned a doughnut shop, and a couple of local lawyers who owned a local Dunkin’ Donuts franchise. They threatened to sue, and eventually Newsom’s bosses forced him to resign.

Newsom says that he doesn’t regret his actions, that he saw doughnuts being served almost everywhere he went in a county with a 25 percent obesity rate and where 39 percent of all adults are overweight. Railing against the, he said, was as much his job as educating the public about flu shots.

My comment, in part:

The San Francisco Chronicle had a story over the weekend saying that “obesity is the elephant in the room of health care reform, a public health catastrophe that kills more than 100,000 Americans a year, cost the nation $147 billion last year and threatens to shorten U.S. life expectancy for the first time since the Civil War.”

In a lot of ways, experts tell the Chronicle, it almost doesn’t matter what health care reforms may be passed by legislators this year because the system will continue to be swamped by increased rates of diabetes and other obesity-related diseases … I have to admit that I am sympathetic to Dr. Newsom’s prescription, and I say that as someone who has struggled with weight issues almost all of my life.

Could he have done it more diplomatically? Perhaps with signs along the lines of “apples = long life,” or something like that? Sure…but I’m guessing that Dr. Newsom thought that he actually owed his patients (the taxpayers who were paying his salary) the truth – unvarnished, unmitigated, even politically incorrect.

The problem, of course, isn’t with people who occasionally indulge in a doughnut. The problem is that if you eat a couple of doughnuts every day, the likelihood increases that you’re going to end up with a weight problem. And that’s the battle that Dr. Newsom thought he needed to fight.

Good for him. And shame on the government bureaucrats who thought that the job of running the county health department meant being less concerned about real health issues and more concerned with political considerations.

I think it is fair to say that not everyone agreed with me…or at least, didn’t agree with what they thought I was saying.

MNB user Kelly Cox Semple wrote:

He was not "telling the truth about obesity." He may have been telling some truth about the connection between food and health (albeit in a clearly inflammatory and not wholly accurate manner). But there are several critical truths that his messages ignore.

1. Some people eat poorly and are not afflicted with medical maladies.
2. Some people eat well and are afflicted with medical maladies.
3. The above points are true irrespective of body size.
4. Not all fat people eat poorly.
5. Not all thin people eat well.
6. Not all fat people are sick.
7. Not all thin people are healthy.
8. (And this is a really important one.) It is not possible to tell if a person eats well and is healthy simply by visually assessing that person's body.

The truth is that this man was only punished for his bully pulpit because he attacked a business interest and rocked a political boat. Were it not for that, those signs would merely have been one more socially acceptable message in a society saturated beyond full with the singular theme that fat is evil -- and the pervasive misconception that food is the enemy.

A thought about the much-maligned doughnut. Does everyone who believes fat=unhealthy genuinely think that every fat person everywhere eats multiple doughnuts every day? Do they think it's simply not possible that there are thin people out there who are doughnut addicts? And it's downright disheartening to know that, if I say that I rarely eat doughnuts (and when I do, I have one), the assumption is that I'm lying. Because everyone knows the "truth" about obesity is that fat people gorge on doughnuts.

If you chose to include this on MNB, by all means, attach my name to it. I'm fat. I'm also healthy (doctor-certified), nutritionally balanced, college educated, well-employed, hard working, successful, happily married with a wonderful family, and a whole bunch of other things that fat people can't possibly be. Most of all, I'm not ashamed of my size.

Another MNB user wrote:

Really? Whose truth? His? And to whom does this Dr, believe he's speaking? 10 year olds? Lets give him the benefit of the doubt, shall we? 14 year olds? Does the Dr think that fat people haven't and don't hear ALL KINDS of condescending, holier-than-thou, bilge from. . . Well, now lets see. . . EVERYBODY they've ever had to deal with who felt the need to tell them 'what their REAL problem is'? What's really amusing is that, although the message is always the same (Your too fat / disgusting), you wouldn't believe how many 'True Answers' fat people hear about their 'problem'. "It's Hi-fructose corn syrup", "It's too much carbs", "It's not enough veggies", "it's too many empty calories", "it's calories in / calories out", "it's too many doughnuts / cheeseburgers / Twinkies / burritos / WHATEVER". If one listens to all this crap long enough one might start to think that NONE OF THESE PEOPLE HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT THEY’RE TALKING ABOUT. I'm afraid, Mr. Coupe, that this includes you.

'Obesity Prevention'? 'People who eat a doughnut a day'? Yes there are other phrases for obesity prevention. Juvenile Eating Disorder is one and Malnutrition is another. With the 'prevention' you call for applied under the aegis of a rabid media 'Obesity Epidemic' social panic campaign AND a media totally fixated on 'super thin' as the beauty ideal, neither of these alternate phrases can be seriously written off as unrealistic. According to virtually ALL news media, "Fat = Death so get thin NOW or you’re gonna DIE! Deader than Death itself! At least do it for the Kids!". Popular media? Is practically a guide to the Pro-Ana lifestyle (Pro-Anorexia or the girls who think anorexia is a GOOD thing). Dr's are putting children on restrictive diets and mutilating their digestive tracks because parents don't want little Jr. or Ms. to end up looking like 'that kid in the paper'. That ONE kid in the paper. Not even noticing the HUNDREDS of kids they see around them every day THAT DON'T LOOK LIKE THAT ONE KID IN THE PAPER. Children need food to grow. There was a time when a fat child was considered a good thing. In fact, I think it's safe to say that most parents in Sir Lanka would LOVE to have such a non-problem with their children as for them to be too fat. Maybe more of them would survive to be teenagers. As for a doughnut a day? Perhaps you should take a job behind the counter at a doughnut shop for a week. You might be surprised how many skinny people come in for that doughnut-a-day and have done for YEARS. Of course, this might not convince you. You could just write it off as, 'Well, those fatties must be doing something ELSE wrong'. We get that a lot. With practically ANYTHING we decide to put into / around / or near our mouths in public being scrutinized, It's always wrong, too much, not good, or it 'can't be ALL (s)he's eating. They must have more stashed at home'. And we're supposed to be GRATEFUL when people like your poor, persecuted, Dr. talks down to us like we're children. How's about we try this; what say, maybe this Dr should try treating his patient's with RESPECT? Or, failing that, simply treating his patients effectively. You wouldn't believe how many Drs take one look at a fat patient and just couldn't be bothered with treating them at all.

Do I sound a bit annoyed in this response? Maybe a little irritated? Might be because I, and people like me, are being blamed for everything from the gas crisis to climate change and the world food crisis to having the poor manners to intentionally crowd fellow travelers on airplanes and thusly being punished by being made to pay twice or get off the plane.

Now fat people are being scapegoated as THE cause of the national healthcare crisis. Tripe like this tends to have that effect of pissing people off. Especially when it's fully and unabashedly directed right at them.

There's an Advice Columnist, Miss Conduct of the Boston Globe, who has a line from one of her responses to someone trying to justify their fat-hate (and that's, pretty much, exactly what this is) in her advise column that I like to quote- "If you think that fat people have no self-discipline, consider the fact that they haven't killed you yet."

I get the fact that you are angry. But there is one thing that I do want to respond to in your email…

I understand that in some ways, it appears that by focusing on obesity issues too obsessively, we run the risk of creating a nation of people with eating disorders. I say that as someone with a family member who was once hospitalized for anorexia/bulimia, and as someone with a teenaged daughter who I watch all the time for signs of a weight obsession.

My feeling is that there must be a middle ground in here somewhere.

Another MNB user wrote:

I disagree with your thoughts on Dr. Newsom. He deserved to be fired, not because of his impact on the brands he highlighted, but because he was being a sensationalist and not a doctor.

Picking on specific foods will not help anything. Someone who gives up donuts and overeats mac and cheese, or mashed potatoes will not see any improved health outcomes. The problem with demonizing specific foods is that many people may be like me and eat a hamburger once per month or less, and same for a doughnut. The obesity problem has everything to do with overeating and much less to do with specific foods. Why not "your grandma's homemade chocolate chip cookies = heart attack".

Say I have an employee who spends too much time reading newsletters (say two hours per day) and doesn't get his priority work done. Say one of those newsletters happens to be MNB. Would you support a sign outside my office stating "Reading MorningNewsBeat = getting fired"?

It's about moderation and balance, not demonizing specific foods. Dr. Newsom gets and A+ for being sensational, but he gets an F for providing helpful wellness education.

Actually, I would support your firing of a person who spent so much time reading online newsletters – even MNB! – that he or she didn’t get work done. (Of course, MNB is designed not to take too much time to read, and to provoke thought and discussion that helps people work smarter…so I’m not too worried about that.)

Another MNB user wrote:

That’s so interesting…and daring of that doc. He knew he was picking a fight with folks who would shut him down and proceeded. An interesting thing…the DD Medium Coffee, ordered “regular” has three tablespoons (not teaspoons) of sugar in it. A friend of mine saw a nutritionist who told him that his morning & mid-day habit had 22 grams of carbs from sugar in each serving. When Roger kicked his coffee habit and started taking it sugar free he lost 10 pounds in three months…and nothing else changed. Never mind the doughnuts, sugar kills.

Didn’t we have a story the other day about a sugar shortage in the US, and how some manufacturers were lobbying the government to increase allowable sugar imports? If the government is going to be consistent with its own health care proposals, I guess it should allow no such thing.

MNB user Bob Hodgin wrote:

We have coaches around the country who are working with doctors to provide education to parents for prevention and solutions for overweight and obese children; however, you would be amazed at how many of our coaches tell us of doctors who are doing little to address the issue and provide education or information to the child and parent. So, I applaud Dr. Newsom for putting his neck on the line. Perhaps as obesity rates continue to climb we need more “in your face” approaches.

Dr. Newsom clearly was in your face in his approach. But he also obviously was dangerously close to some raw nerves, as well.

I still think his impulse was right. But maybe it could have been leavened with some compassion. (Though I suspect that this statement also will inflame some folks, who will argue that they don't need compassion, and that I’m being condescending just by using the word.)

Sometimes, you can't win.
KC's View: