Obesity is a health challenge in the United States. According to the Institute of Medicine, “fighting obesity will require changes where Americans live, work, play and learn.” So-called walkable neighborhoods, zoning limits on fast-food restaurants, stricter government regulations on marketing foods, and taxes on sodas are among the recommendations in a recent IoM report.
I challenge the premise of this report, namely that capitalism is inherently flawed because it encourages self-destructive behavior—eating Big Macs and drinking too much Pepsi)—and reasonable people must reign in excessive market freedom for their own good. But why is federal action required whenever someone identifies a social ill, and what claim does the federal government have to infringe on the rights of private companies and citizens?
The assumption that underpins each of these recommendations is that government knows best and control is necessary to force Americans to behave appropriately. After spending trillions of dollars in the War on Poverty, left-wing organizations such as Feeding America tell us that hunger is still a problem for one in six Americans. While I don’t buy such statistics, they point to a truth about socialism. Regardless of the programs created and the amount of wealth redistributed, there are always more problems that require additional government spending and control. Obesity is a good example.
I can hear the opposition now: Certainly federal and state governments have a role to play; if not, we’ll all end up paying more in health care expenses. However, this argument assumes that we have a collective responsibility to pay for everyone’s health care in the first place. This is why accepting a “right to health care” is so dangerous. Once you do, you open the floodgates to endless regulations and taxes to pay for it.
Of course, there are some things that can be done on a practical level. For example, schools can provide nutritious meals and limit access to the soda machines, especially in elementary schools. They can provide physical education programs to encourage exercise as well. Decisions like these should be made locally, however, and nobody should seek to regulate the content of the lunchboxes that kids take to school.
In the end, each of us should determine what to eat and how much to exercise. Proper labeling can help us make informed decisions, but the choice should remain with the individual.