- The Washington Times - Friday, November 27, 2009

Kate Moss is no stranger to controversy. The iconic British model lost some high-profile contracts after a U.K. tabloid ran photographs that appeared to show her taking cocaine. Her on-again, off-again relationship with musician Pete Doherty was rumored to be sometimes violent and often drug-fueled.

Yet she’s in a bit of hot water now that, if breathless headlines and indignant retorts are any indication, could end up eclipsing those little matters. Women’s Wear Daily, in an interview with the 35-year-old model, asked if she had a motto. Yes, she responded: “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” Cue the outrage.

Critics seemed more angry about this simple sentence — which might be just a fact for a woman who makes millions of dollars a year off her enviable physique — than they were about her more questionable lifestyle choices.

“Comments like this make it even more difficult for young people struggling with an eating disorder, proclaimed Mary George, a spokeswoman for Beat, a British organization that crusades against eating disorders. “She probably doesn’t realize how dangerous such comments can be.”

She was especially upset because that motto isn’t new — it has appeared on pro-anorexia Web sites.

A colleague of Miss Moss’, model Katie Green, slammed the remark as “shocking and irresponsible” in the British tabloid the Sun.

“Kate is a mother herself, and how would parents with children suffering from eating disorders feel reading something like this?” Miss Green demanded. (The more voluptuous Miss Green might have an agenda behind her anger — she’s trying to rid the industry of ultrathin models.)

These furious women seem to be saying that Miss Moss’ statement promotes bad eating habits, encouraging some girls to become so unhealthy they’re risking their lives.

But in an age of increasing — and increasingly costly — obesity, should we really be reflexively condemning a public figure who suggests it’s possible to use good old-fashioned willpower to eat less?

Let’s face it: Most of us are sitting at home right now, wondering if we have the energy to make it to any Black Friday sales after gorging ourselves on turkey, stuffing, potatoes and pie Thursday.

There’s nothing wrong with filling our faces like that once in a while. The problem is that too many of us do it too often.

How we eat is a lifestyle choice — something forgotten even as public health officials warn us that we’re in the middle of an obesity “epidemic.” That sounds as if we’re facing an outbreak of influenza, something we can’t easily control individually.

Miss Moss has reminded us that we can.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that more than two-thirds of American adults are either overweight or obese. Most troubling, the legions of the obese are — pun intended — getting larger and larger. The number of obese people — more than a third of adults — doubled from the 1980 to 2004.

As we debate reform amid the spiraling costs of health care, we might note how much this extra weight costs us. The CDC says medical expenses attributable to being overweight and obese accounted for 9.1 percent of all medical expenditures in 1998. It estimates it cost the health care system as much as $92.6 billion (in 2002 dollars) — half of which was paid by Medicaid and Medicare.

The British aren’t faring much better. Studies there indicate overweight and obese people cost their National Health System 4 billion pounds (almost $6.7 billion) a year.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s health reform bill currently being debated includes a number of provisions aimed at slimming down America — $25 million for a Childhood Obesity Demonstration Project, grants from the CDC “to develop evidence-based community preventative health activities” and mandated insurance coverage for obesity screening. (Wouldn’t a mirror be cheaper in the last case?)

Miss Moss has reminded us — just as our big meals Thursday probably did — that fatty and carby foods taste good going down but don’t feel so great once they’re there. We could save a lot of money — and look and feel better in the bargain — if we had more beautiful women like Miss Moss risking public opprobrium to speak the truth.

Some might claim it’s simply genes that make Miss Moss so slim. But what was lost in the outrage was the full sentence she uttered: “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels — you try to remember, but it never works.” In other words, it takes work — and willpower — to look as good as she does. (And — let’s admit it — a few cigarettes. Miss Moss, the original waif, is a famous smoker.)

Being thin, for many women, is an accomplishment — it takes work to get that way. Envious people, though, seem set on making it a near-crime, complaining that thin is unhealthy at the same time that people are dying in record numbers each year from the consequences of obesity.

Miss Moss is rumored to be upset with the uproar and reportedly planned to celebrate a friend’s birthday Wednesday by eating outdoors so photographers could capture her noshing at a big spread.

Yet Miss Moss’ restraint — denounced in knee-jerk reactions — could be just the message public health officials have been seeking to alleviate an increasingly dangerous and expensive “epidemic.”

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