Absolutely. Government has no business interfering with what you eat.

By: Radley Balko

N UTRITION ACTIVISTS ARE AGITATING FOR A PANOPLY of initiatives that would bring the government between you and your waistline. President Bush earmarked $125 million in his budget for the encouragement of healthy lifestyles. State legislatures and school boards have now begun banning snacks and soda from school campuses and vending machines. Several state legislators and Oakland, California , Mayor Jerry Brown, among others, have called for a “fat tax” on high-calorie foods. Congress is considering menu-labeling legislation that would force chain restaurants to list fat, sodium and calories for each item.

That is precisely the wrong way to fight obesity. Instead of intervening in the array of food options available to Americans, our government ought to be working to foster a personal sense of responsibility for our health and well-being. We’re doing just the opposite. For decades, America’s healthcare system has been migrating toward nationalized medicine. We have a law that requires some Americans to pay for other Americans’ medicine, and several states bar health insurers from charging lower premiums to people who stay fit. That removes the financial incentive for making healthy decisions. Worse, socialized health care makes us troublingly tol- erant of government trespasses on our personal freedom. If my neighbor’s heart attack shows up on my tax bill, I’m more likely to support state regulation of what he eats—restrictions on what grocery stores can put on their shelves, for example, or what McDonald’s can put between its sesame-seed buns.

The best way to combat the public-health threat of obesity is to remove obesity from the realm of “public health It’s difficult to think of a matter more private and less public than what we choose to put in our bodies. Give Americans moral, financial and personal responsibility for their own health, and obesity is no longer a public matter but a private one—with all the costs, concerns and worries of being overweight borne only by those people who are actually overweight. Let each of us take full responsibility for our diet and lifestyle. We’re likely to make better decisions when someone else isn’t paying for the consequences

Radley Balko, based in Alexandria, Va., is a policy analyst with the Cato Institute and a columnist for

The Golden Rule - Do Unto Others



Not if blaming the victim is just an excuse to let industry off the hock.

By: Kelly Brownell & Marion Nestle


T HE FOOD INDUSTRY, LIKE ANY OTHER, MUST GROW TO stay in business. One way it does so is by promoting un-healthy foods, particularly to children. Each year kids see more than 10,000 food ads on TV alone, almost all for items like soft drinks, fast foods and sugared cereals. In the same year that the government spent $2 million on its main nutrition-education program, McDonald’s spent $500 million on its We Love to See You Smile campaign. It can be no surprise that teenagers consume nearly twice as much soda as milk (the reverse was true 20 years ago) and that 25% of all vegetables eaten in the U.S. are French fries.

To counter criticism, the food industry and pro-business groups use a public relations script focused on personal responsibility. The script has three elements:(1) if people are overweight, it is their own fault; (2) industry responds to consumer demand but does not create it; and (3) insisting that industry change—say, by not marketing to children or requiring restaurants to reveal calories—is an attack on freedom. Why quarrel with the personal responsibility argument?

First, it’s wrong. The prevalence of obesity increases year after year. Were people less responsible in 2002 than in 2001? Obesity is a global problem. Is irresponsi-bility an epidemic around the world?

Second, it ignores biology. Humans are hardwired, as a survival strategy, to like foods high in sugar fat and calories.

Third, the argument is not helpful. Imploring people to eat better and exercise more has been the default approach to obesity for years. That is a failed experiment.

Fourth, personal responsibility is a trap. The argument is startlingly similar to the tobacco industry’s efforts to stave off legislative and regulatory interventions. The nation tolerated personal-responsibility arguments from Big Tobacco for decades, with disastrous results.

Governments collude with industry when they shift attention from conditions promoting poor diets to the individuals who consume them. Government should be doing everything it can to create conditions that lead to healthy eating, support parents in raising healthy children and make decisions in the interests of public health rather than private profit.


Kelly Brownell is chairman of Yale’s department of psychology; Marion Nestle is professor of public health at N.Y U.

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