New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s war on soft drinks, or any sugary drink larger than 16 oz., isn’t an isolated situation of Big Brother run amuck. Obesity, like poverty, climate change and other societal issues is something that everyone agrees is a bad thing. And unlike climate change, it does appear to be a scientifically valid trend.
But as is the case with these other movements, the war on obesity is about much more than just overweight people. It’s about the growth of government and government’s role in our lives. It’s about government deciding we are unable to protect ourselves from ourselves, so government has to do it. Ultimately, it’s about eliminating or diminishing free markets, and having a command-and-control economy.
Evil foods like sugar, and the big sugar and soda companies, are the main targets right now, but we’ll be next on the list when the easier-to-accept purveyors of “junk” food have been conquered. Not only do they want to control, limit and tax sugary foods based on sugar content, but they are even regulating portion size.
And they have some data on their side to justify taking over some of our basic freedoms. According to the Obama administration, 42% of the U.S. population will be obese by the year 2030. By simply keeping obesity rates at today’s level would save us $550 billion in health care costs, they estimate. The real threat from nationalizing our health care isn’t the diminished quality of care, or the crippling effect it will have on our budget, but that it gives government yet another excuse to regulate more of our lives, especially as it relates to nutrition and food production.
I guess the government has a point, but I love my Coke, enjoy an occasional potato chip, and, while I know I should exercise more, I just haven’t brought myself to doing it. I’m just not sure I’m prepared to pay a fine if I can’t prove that I have walked 30 miles in the last three weeks, but already there are proposals along those lines as well.
What is especially disturbing isn’t the increased taxes on “bad” food or the subsidizing of “good” food, but the idea that our schools should become the primary battleground for this war on obesity. I think physical education is important, but the politicization of these issues hasn’t proven to be effective.
In the end, as has always been the case, government won’t change the obesity rates – the attitudes of the citizenry will. Nor will government save us money, as new bureaucracies and taxes will cost far more than any realized savings. What we will end up with is a bigger, more powerful government that will influence our choice of foods and how we live.