Ridiculous Lawmaker of the Day: Mayhall Wants to Ban Obese from Eating
W.T. Mayhall, Jr, Republican House member in Mississippi, has introduced a bill so obnoxiously wrong that I very seriously doubt it will make it out of the Public Health and Human Services committee to which it has been referred. HB282 is:
An act to prohibit certain food establishments from serving food to any person who is obese, based on criteria prescribed by the State Department of Health; to direct the Department to prepare written materials that describe and explain the criteria for determining whether a person is obese and to provide those materials to the food establishments; to direct the department to monitor the food establishments for compliance with the provision of this act; and for related purposes.
“Certain food establishments” means those with seating for 5 or more customers, so basically all of them.
First, this is so offensive that it barely warrants explanation of the offense. Let’s have a go at it, anyway:
1) It assumes that obese people should just not eat, that obesity is solely a problem of eating too much, and that banning obese people from spending their own money at private restaurants would do anything whatsoever to reduce obesity. This is unlikely to be true.
2) It circumvents the will of the owners of private restaurants to serve whomever they want. In Mississippi, it’s estimated that 30% of adults are considered “obese.” That’s a tremendous chunk of the customer base, with potential effects on local economies in a state that already struggles in this area. Aside from which, people making $2-something an hour and depending on tips are going to be really reluctant to tell people they can’t serve them because they’re “too fat.”
3) It smacks of civil rights violations, of not serving customers because of their skin color, and that’s somewhere I think the state of Mississippi does not need to go. I don’t want to Godwinize my own post, but damn.
4) It would practically require the weighing and measuring of every customer who comes through the door. Obesity is currently defined by the BMI, which is calculated by looking at height and weight. Eyeballing it for “fatness” is not going to do it. Presumably the restaurants would have to keep records of customers’ BMIs, and turn those records over to the government, in order to demonstrate compliance.
5) It ignores that the BMI is a screening tool, not a diagnostic one. The BMI serves as a proxy for health status, but cannot predict or determine all individuals with health problems. Obesity is not like measles – you can’t just see it and know someone is “sick.” As one expert on the project to reexamine pregnancy weight gain recommendations recently stated, “Not everyone in a certain range is at a healthy weight, he said. There are people in the 20-25 kg/m2 range who have all the manifestations and adverse effects of obesity, and there are people in a higher BMI group who could be called overweight or obese but have no adverse health effects.” In other words, there’s some serious arbitrariness here.
Representative Mayhall could have introduced any number of other bills if he was truly concerned about weight (and health) in his state. He could have asked restaurants to include nutritional information on their menus, expanded access to health coverage and healthcare, provided start-up funding for a public health or university-based initiative to study obesity, or expanded access to healthy foods, especially for low-income individuals. He didn’t. He piped up with this piece of discriminatory, bad business, unscientific nonsense, deciding that the way to address obesity was to prevent people from eating. #@&!