Why did the report from the American Psychosomatic Society (APS) on its research into over-eating raise our hackles? With a third of US citizens now classified as obese, at least on the BMI index, any research is surely be welcome – even if it is government-funded and cost about $1.7 million (£1.4m).
And if the fat and sugar themselves aren’t to blame – after all, they do no harm in moderation – then it makes sense to look into the mindset of those who consume them immoderately, so long as there is anything new to discover.
The idea there are emotional triggers that encourage gorging is familiar enough; it used to be called comfort eating. But now the APS has been using spyware and other devices to try and measure the moods and mood-swings in the volunteer families comprising its burly study-group. Presumably, the society hopes to measure the time between Maw telling Lou-Anne to her move her fat ass and Lou-Anne repairing her self-esteem with a pint of Ben’n’Jerry’s.
And that’s what makes us uneasy. Psychology, like economics and sociology, is a pseudo-science. Psychologists can’t replicate experiments or predict their results. But taking measurements – size of pizza slice, say, versus hurtfulness of insult – cloaks them in respectability. It allows them to make tenuous connections and on such foundations construct a narrative of cause-and-effect.
Armed with this ‘evidence’, they can then demand more money for more research before ultimately concluding that something must be done. The chain of causality must be broken! But how? Why, by more monitoring, of course, and by intervention. The original cost must be justified; a case must be built.
What happens then is anyone’s guess. Perhaps warnings on confectionery that it should not be used as a substitute for love? Measures to make cakes look unappetising, starting with plain-packaging? (Moves are already afoot.). Mindfulness courses on prescription for the portly?
Doubtless, the APS will demand some role for spyware – which is straying from the private into the public sector now. And collectively, it all goes to demonstrate how collusion between patronising academics and the so-called ‘progressive’ elements within the state allows them to buttress their own positions at the expense of the taxpayer and to no discernible good.
The idea that you can regulate for psychological states belongs in dystopian science fiction. Of course there is a role for education, but only if it encourages children to think for themselves – and even then, there is no evidence that the well-educated are any more stable than the rest of us.
The trouble for the elites is that tax, their usual weapon of control, won’t work. While it has played a huge part in the decline of smoking, much more than packaging restrictions (that is, until both began to make counterfeiting and smuggling competitive) you can’t tax basic foodstuffs, nor control their preparation in the home.
The truth is that the elites can now do little to ‘tackle obesity’ without computer-tracking behaviour in order to control it. (And if you think that’s fanciful, look at the article in the Sunday Times about how schoolkids are now being monitored and reported on without their full understanding.)
The only sensible alternative is to let people make their own mistakes. After all, they already pay for them.