Junkfood Science: Car fat

September 17, 2008

Car fat

When the Institute for European Environmental Policy, based in London, released a report last summer noting a correlation between rising car ownership and obesity, and a correlation between rising obesity rates and global warming, the solution proposed was to dissuade Europeans from driving their cars and to walk more. Government agencies began considering the plan, but few consumers took it all that seriously, thinking “what are they going to do, make us?”

A small story in the news today revealed a way they just might. The costs, however, might be greater than people in a free society might be willing to sacrifice... even if there was sound science behind the plan.

The Daily Mail reports on a new government surveillance program which was launched in the name of keeping people safer, but the databank is proving irresistibly lucrative as a money-maker. Like so many politically-motivated causes using obesity and the environment to compel everyone to live a certain way, private companies are now rushing to cash in.

Police cameras to track 50million cars a DAY - and keep details for up to five years

Surveillance society: Police will use converted CCTV cameras to record the journeys of millions of motorists. Police intend to map millions of car journeys and keep them on a national database for five years. Roadside cameras across the country will capture the exact movements of 50 million licence plates every day.

Officers have been encouraged to 'fully and strategically exploit' the database to reconstruct the whereabouts of drivers despite growing concerns from civil rights groups. The expansion of the database, which currently logs the routes of 10 million motorists a day, has been hailed by the Home Office as a positive move to help police investigate a wide range of crimes from petty offences to counter-terrorism...

[R]esponding to inquiries under the Freedom of Information Act, the Home Office has reportedly admitted the data is now being kept for five years.... In four months' time, when a nationwide network of cameras is fully operational, the National ANPR Data Centre in Hendon, north London, will record up to 50 million licence plates a day....

In 2005, the government invested £32million to develop the ANPR data-sharing programme.... Senior police officers have said they intend the database to be integrated into 'mainstream policing'.... The director of Privacy International, Simon Davies, said last night the database would give police 'extraordinary powers of surveillance'. 'This would never be allowed in any other democratic country,' he said. 'This is possibly one of the most valuable reserves of data imaginable.'

Writing for the Daily Mail, Matthew Drake, reports that another scheme has been uncovered, to charge motorists when they use their cars, being developed by hopeful Government contractors:

Companies bidding to run the pay-as-you-go driving schemes have been asked to come up with a system to impose a minimum charge on motorists. The charges would be imposed at all times and not just on the busiest roads or during rush hours. The proposals are part of Government plans to encourage more people to use public transport or walk to fight rising obesity levels.

In the tender document, it encourages companies to test technology for a pay-as-you-go scheme that could be applied nationwide. It means that minimum travel charges, short distance fees and higher costs for driving on busier roads could be imposed on some areas.... A Department for Transport spokesman said the trials were being carried out for local schemes and denied national charging would be introduced....

According to the IEEP report, cars have played a dominant role in weight gain. The Greenpeace Foundation authors claim that just 8 minutes less walking a day is sufficient to increase a person’s BMI from 20 to over 30. Bikes aren’t the cause for the obesity epidemic, nor diets. Cycling has been stable since the 1970s and caloric intake has actually declined in England by 20-percent between 1974 and 2004, even allowing for under-reporting of food consumption. But car ownership is up, so people are walking less... and therefore must be less active and fat. [There was no mention of the exercise craze since the 1970s and the emergence of athletic shoes, for example.]

This line of argument is, of course, based on a string of correlations, rather than stronger prospective, clinical or interventional studies, which fail to support the myth of sloth. Similarly, no public health intervention focused on increasing physical activity, regardless of how intensive, has proven effective in reducing obesity rates. Science helps bring focus to unsound public health policies that have objectives that aren’t really about caring for our health.

Just as The Newspaper notes, policies that begin in one country eventually make their way here. Sure enough, yesterday it reported:

Photo Ticket Cameras to Track Drivers Nationwide

Vendors plan to add spy technology to existing red light camera and speed camera installations. Private companies in the US are hoping to use red light cameras and speed cameras as the basis for a nationwide surveillance network similar to one that will be active next year in the UK. Redflex and American Traffic Solutions, the top two photo enforcement providers in the US, are quietly shopping new motorist tracking options to prospective state and local government clients.... To gain public acceptance, the surveillance program is being initially sold as an aid for police looking to solve Amber Alert cases and locate stolen cars.

Coincidentally, today seems a good day to contemplate these news stories and consider their greater significance. It’s Constitution Day, also called Citizen’s Day — the day the U.S. Constitution was signed and ratified 221 years ago, after months of rancorous debates between Federalists and Anti-Federalists. With the signing of our Constitution, a national government was granted limited powers and the freedoms of individual citizens and states were guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. This week we remember the vision of our Founding Fathers for a free society. Do we safeguard our individual rights to sovereignty of our bodies, or do we turn them over to the state and let federal agencies track and record our movements, blood sugars, BMIs and diets and penalize us for not complying with its plans for us?

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