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Ridiculous Lawmaker of the Day: Mayhall Wants to Ban Obese from Eating

February 1, 2008

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. #@&!

[Thanks to Kat for pointing me to Junkfood Science’s post on the topic]

16 Comments leave one →
  1. February 1, 2008 10:41 am

    Pardon me, but Mississippi already has sort of a rep and this isn’t helping.

  2. February 1, 2008 10:53 am

    I’m glad you took the ball andn ran with it. I was too pissed.

    Even though it’s not like I had plans to go to dinner in Mississippi or anything.

  3. Skoochie permalink
    February 1, 2008 11:25 am

    This is such an hilariously bad bill that I have to wonder if it’s just a cry for attention. Unless his district is particularly skinny and fascist, though, I don’t think it’s a strategic move.

  4. denise permalink
    February 1, 2008 12:05 pm

    I’m an obese diabtic, do I get a special dispensation or do I just go into insulin shock and die should I ever visti the statre and need to eat.
    It’s frightening to think this man was elected, but never understimate the stupidity of the voting public. Marion Marry was re-elected in DC so let’s see if this fool gets rerelected

  5. Mike permalink
    February 1, 2008 12:37 pm

    Look at his party affiliation…need I say more. Are you better off than you were 7 years ago?

  6. February 1, 2008 2:30 pm

    Please! Mayhall is being satirical, and when he tells the press he’s not being satirical, he’s pulling a Colbert (or a Jonathan Swift). The proposal is outrageous, and he designed it that way to get much-needed attention to the lack of public policy initiatives to address obesity and diabetes issues.

    Please do not let yourselves be teased into believing what he has to say. Please take a look at my URL above for a suggested way to respond that’s constructive, and that advances the cause of women’s health. He’s getting us free publicity; let’s use it wisely.

  7. February 1, 2008 2:56 pm

    Ankhorite, it’s a stunt, and a hateful one at that, and it’s using up taxpayer resources while people evaluate the potential cost and look at it in committee. He could have proposed public policy initiatives like a grown-up, but instead he chose this. Of course it has no chance of passing, but that doesn’t make it any less stupid.

    Aside from which, what evidence do you have that’s he being satirical? I don’t send my legislators to the hill to be satirical and witty and/or uninformed bigots – I send them there to get real, grown-up things done. I assume many in MS feel the same way.

  8. February 2, 2008 8:26 pm

    what is also unbelieveable is what the USDA wants to do to those who own one or more farm animal, be it horse, cow, chicken, pig, sheep etc etc
    The USDA is running roughshod over those who own animals and want to raise them naturally.
    While the USDA is giving corporate ag and factory farming all sorts of breaks, the rest of us who own even one chicken, even as pets, willl have to register our premises with the govt, microchip and file reports on all births, deaths and off property movements within 24 hrs or face huge fines. If disease is suspected the USDA can come in and depopulate a 6 mile radius (140 sq mi.) Reason- so big ag can tell the global market what a safe food supply we have and sell to japan…goofy, i know but it gets worse…see for more info on how nais will affect all who eat!

  9. February 3, 2008 12:55 pm

    Oh, it is a stunt all right. It is a publicity stunt by Pharma. Every time they have a pill down the pike the scare tactics increase. He wants to talk about obesity. Lets talk about how exaggerated it is. Lets talk about how all those scare studies are sponsored by Pharma. Lets talk about how they count the damage of risky weight loss pills under obesity. Government interventions have become opportunities for corporate crooks to rip the consumer off. We need less gov intervention and LESS obsession with weight!


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