NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The McVictim Syndrome Could Kill Us

December 13, 2010

Call it the McVictim syndrome.  Too many pundits, public health experts and politicians are working overtime to find scapegoats for America's obesity epidemic, says David Gratzer, a physician and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

  • In his latest book, former FDA Commissioner David A. Kessler argues that modern food is addictive; in it, he recounts how he was once helpless to stop himself from eating a cookie.
  • In a paper in this month's Journal of Health Economics, University of Illinois researchers join a long list of analysts who blame urban sprawl for obesity.
  • In November, former Carter administration advisor Amitai Etzioni argued that it's so hard for Americans to keep weight off that adults should simply give up and focus attention on the young instead.
  • The peak of the trend: A recently released Ohio study, using mice, suggests "fine-particulate air pollution" could be causing a rise in obesity rates.

How long before we're told that the devil made us eat it?

The McVictim syndrome spins a convenient -- and unhealthy -- narrative on America's emerging preventable disease crisis.  McVictimization teaches Americans to think that obesity is someone else's fault -- and therefore, someone else's problem to solve, says Gratzer.

The syndrome is far too prevalent, which promotes the notion that regulations and laws are the primary solution to the problem.  But governments can't micromanage your waistline for you.  Even if governments could magically walk you to work, ban food advertising, regulate sugar out of food and suck those fat particles out of the air, in a free society you would still have the power to drive to the nearest restaurant, shake your salt shaker and order a second piece of pie.

That's why understanding -- and rejecting -- the McVictim culture is crucial to obesity reduction policy.  And the first step in that process is to reject the temptation to find an easy scapegoat.

Source: David Gratzer, "The McVictim Syndrome Could Kill Us," Los Angeles Times, December 8, 2010.

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