The Obesity Battle

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.


6 thoughts on “The Obesity Battle

  1. The war on obesity is ridiculous. The only way the government can save you from obesity is to lock you in a hamster cage. They can’t regulate us enough to solve this problem anyway. It’s a complete waste of money. Besides, if obese people die earlier, then won’t we save on social security and medicare?

  2. There’s a middle ground. A tax on soft drinks will raise needed revenue and it won’t prevent you from buying it. Keeping fast food restaurants out of certain zones encourages people to buy other food but doesn’t prevent them from getting a Big Mac. D and R should work together on this.

  3. All fast food places have salads and other healthier options. A burger just tastes better and you get more calories per dollar with a burger. Makes sense to me to buy the burger.
    Patrick, excellent point. The concept that this is a government problem is a result of the governement intervening in health care and retirement in the first place.

  4. I never hear the socialists mention the constitution when they claim to have a big government solution for our problems.

  5. When about one-third of the children in the U.S. are either overweight or obese, the war on obesity should be serious. This is a national issue and government intervention is needed because the market does not correct itself and continues to sell junk food that contributes to obesity.( McDonald’s added some salads options to the menu, but this is marginal). It should be mentioned that many initiatives to fight obesity come from local organizations and municipalities and not from the federal government. For ex. San Francisco passed a low that prevent fast food restaurant from giving away free toys in the kid’s meals unless they meet nutritional requirements. Happy Meals toys are no longer free in San Francisco.

  6. Once again the mighty, all-knowing government steps into solve a problem that it unwittingly created. By assuming that fat contained in foods automatically causes obesity, they ignored the positive health and energy benefits that certain fats produce. When diets by Atkins and South Beach and studies by Duke University and others seriously questioned the government theories, they conveniently moved to “processed fats” as the culprit. Like the war on poverty, the government has too much invested in this War on Obesity to turn back. It’s always more money and more regulation and, oh yeah, continue to vote for us.

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