Roland Sturm of the RAND Corporation spouts off on what The Washington Post calls a “spreading obesity epidemic.” Says Sturm: “The narrow focus on diets is not going to work. This is doomed to fail.” Instead, Sturm “points to the tobacco analogy… Higher taxes on cigarettes… limits on tobacco advertising, the isolation of smokers in restaurants and other public places, a broad public education campaign… and, finally, a legal attack on tobacco companies” were required to make the sort of cultural change Sturm now seeks regarding diet choice.
The Post‘s Abigail Trafford butts in: “Public health officials should learn from the anti-tobacco movement and mount an equivalent campaign to help dieters beat the obesity epidemic… What about an exercise hour to replace the lunch hour? How about treadmills in city parks along with benches? The government could tax junk food so that French fries would cost three times more than carrot sticks.”
The message: Epidemics are expensive. These treadmills and bike paths are not going to be paid for by sweat of joggers or the self-righteous ruminations of folks like Sturm — they will come from “taxes on snack foods and soft drinks” like the ones Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest proposes. (CSPI is also promoting a penny-a-can or bottle soda tax to pay for a government-sponsored “mass media public health campaign.” If adopted, this would take millions per year from consumers.)
“I don’t want the government hectoring me to eat less and exercise more,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial writer Russell Roberts wrote last week. “But like everything else these days, the personal is political. Some people say my weight problem is your problem and vice versa… I don’t want the government hectoring me to eat less and exercise more. I don’t want the government using my money and yours to monitor my fat intake or the cholesterol allowed in the menu at the local fast food restaurant. And I don’t want the government taxing fat on menus, at groceries or on my 1040 Form.”
But beyond taxes, there’s a threat to consumer freedom. Deborah Cohen, like Sturm a RAND Corporation researcher, is calling for government intervention into the “obesity epidemic,” saying a “retooling of our environment” away from “in-your-face availability” is required. Cohen, in a report funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (which also funds CSPI), wrote of alcohol: “Consumption by any individual is, in part, a function of the overall distribution of consumption of the community.” Translation: Limiting the availability of a product to the entire community is the key to reducing the small number of actual abusers. Now she wants to limit the availability of so-called “bad” food as well.