The fat kid always gets picked on. At recess, in the locker room, at the beach, on the bus.

And now the government has stepped in.

Last week in Los Angeles, the City Council voted unanimously to ban any new fast-food restaurants from opening in South Central — a 32-square-mile swath that covers the poorer portions of the city — for at least the next year.

The moratorium is in response to escalating obesity among South Central youths, of whom 30 percent are obese, compared with 25 percent citywide.

The objective is lofty enough — who wants to see more fat kids? — but thank goodness John Adams doesn't have to see this. Or the equally portly Ben Franklin. Or any of the Founding Fathers, the skinny and the fat, who built this country on certain inalienable freedoms.

The right to worship freely, the right to bear arms, the right to eat a Big Mac when you want to.

The one about the Big Mac wasn't specifically included in the original Bill of Rights because McDonald's was still two centuries away. But it was why Thomas Jefferson, who probably wouldn't have exercised his right to eat a Big Mac, included "among them" when he started naming inalienable rights. He knew the list wasn't complete.

America is a place where people are free to eat when, where and what they may.

It is not against the law to be fat.

It's not healthy. It's uncomfortable. It doesn't help you get dates. It makes clothes-shopping a nightmare.

But it isn't against the law.

Obesity is not a jailable offense.

By targeting fat, the L.A. City Council is tromping on the red-white-and-blue freedom to legally consume.

What's next? A ban on Twinkies? A restriction on Xbox activity? A requirement that everybody has to jog?

I'm not defending fat. I've had my own ups and downs, and I know it feels better to be down than up.

I'm defending the right to be fat.

No one other than your mom, your grandmother and your football coach can tell you what you can and cannot eat.

Besides that, I'll bet you that order of fries it doesn't work.

A year from now, I'm guessing the obesity rate for kids in South Central will be even higher.

Instead of banning more fast-food restaurants, the government would be better off attacking obesity the way it attacks other excesses in society. If you smoke too much or abuse alcohol or acquire too much debt or drive recklessly, there are economic penalties. Your insurance rates rise, your credit scores soar, you become a high-risk person.

Ask most people why they stopped getting traffic tickets, and they'll say it's because of the realization of what it does to the cost of their insurance.

If obesity carried with it more penalties — for example, I, for one, am all for charging more money for an airplane seat if you exceed the BMI obesity index — people would stop lining up so often at the drive-through for a burger, fries and a shake.

Start picking on the fat wallet, and leave the fat kid alone.

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.