David Frum is a conservative republican CNN contributor and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush. In short, he’s the last person you’d expect to come out with a statement that society is to blame for America’s obesity problem, or that the government needs to take on a public campaign to help us all with our winter weight loss resolutions. But he did. In a CNN article titled “Why we’re getting fatter — and what to do about it,” Frum’s arguments—that our food supply and lifestyle cause obesity—aren’t anything new. But to hear it coming from his mouth should sound like a final gavel coming down: If even conservative republicans are willing to admit that society is to blame for obesity, then it’s probably time to listen.
Frum explains that, as we enter the time of year when so many people go on largely unsuccessful diet and workout programs in a bid against excess weight, it’s clear that the problem can’t be cured by individual resolve alone. He points out that, just as individuals have to change their entire lifestyle in order to permanently lose weight, society needs to change its entire organization in order to combat our most significant health problem:
Want to change this? It’s no small project. It would involve the redesign of cities, the relocation of schools, the reinvention of our modes of eating and amusement.
First lady Michelle Obama has made healthy eating her special project. Good for her, and let’s hope her efforts lead to success. But if we are to succeed, we should understand: The campaign against obesity will have to look a lot less like the campaign against smoking (which involves just one decision, to smoke or not to smoke) and much more like the generation-long campaign against highway fatalities, which required the redesign of cars, the redesign of highways, and changes in personal behavior like seat-belt use and drunk driving.
The good news is that the campaign against highway fatalities has yielded real progress: down two-thirds since the mid-1960s. The bad news is that, for most of us, it will take more than a New Year’s resolution. However, if you are seriously resolved, congratulations — and see you on the jogging path.
Conservative republicans aren’t known to support measures like soda taxes or funneling tax money into public health programs; they’re certainly not the first to applaud Michelle Obama’s efforts toward a healthier America.
But ultimately, a society suffering from severe health problems isn’t one that can be productive and wealthy, regardless of its ideology. Frum is just recognizing that the problem has gotten to that point, and whether you’re in agreement with his politics or not, I think it’s finally time for everyone to admit that he’s right.