Studies in American Political Development

How the Personal Becomes Political: Prohibitions, Public Health, and Obesity

Rogan Kersh a1 and James Morone a2
a1 Syracuse University
a2 Brown University

The American Cancer Society puts it bluntly: “We're fat and it's killing us.” Obesity is rising at epidemic rates and, according to a first-ever Surgeon General's report on obesity (issued in 2001), it may soon surpass tobacco as the chief cause of preventable death in the United States. Obesity has been directly linked to heart disease, diabetes, stroke, infertility, and cancer. Each year, obesity costs the nation an estimated $120 billion in medical care and takes some 280,000 lives. Body weight is rising fastest among young Americans—the most dramatic stories feature heart attacks among obese six year-olds. 1


1 David Satcher, “Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity” (Rockville, MD: Department of Health and Human Services, 2001), xiii, 8; Kelly Brownell, “Public Policy and the Prevention of Obesity,” in Eating Disorders and Obesity: A Comprehensive Handbook, ed. Christopher G. Fairburn and Kelly D. Brownell (New York: Guilford, 2002); Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2001), 241–43.