We know a lot of activists hate inexpensive food, but we were hoping they’d think twice before promoting draconian limitations on basic human necessities like food and drink. But you’d be wrong. This is exactly what New York Governor David Paterson is doing by taxing soda pop, banning trans fats statewide, and forcing restaurants to clutter their menus with calorie counts. As we wrote Friday in the New York Daily News, “New Yorkers may have begun wondering, ‘Why us?’ After all, New Yorkers are not the fattest Americans.”
True enough. And although obesity rates vary among states, everything Paterson wants to tax and regulate is available all over America, from the leanest states (like Colorado) to the fattest (this means you, Mississippi).
New York falls somewhere in the middle. But what determines whether the Empire State will track closer to magnolias or Rocky Mountains? Could it be that fast-food outlets, with their full-strength soft drinks and (gasp!) cheeseburgers, are simply more accessible to Mississippians than Coloradoans?
Nope. Census data show that none of the ten most obese U.S. states has the most fast-food restaurants per person. Seven out of those ten "fat" states are among the 15 with the lowest fast-food restaurant density. (Mississippi is third lowest.) And Colorado ranks in the top 10 in that category.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. One recent study found “no evidence of a causal link between restaurants and obesity.” Here’s what we make of it, again from our Daily News op-ed:

State-by-state obesity trends only make sense when you look at the other side of the obesity equation: physical activity. Simply put, residents of states with high obesity rates tend to move less… Of the top 10 most obese states, government surveys show nine of them are also the most sedentary. The residents of the most obese state, Mississippi, report the lowest rates of leisure-time physical activity in the country.

In other words, physical activity is a good predictor of obesity rates. But sedentary lifestyles, of course, aren’t so easy to tax.
Leave it to the Nanny State to respond to our financial limitations by putting even more conditions on what we can buy and how much it costs. Unlike most Americans, Governor Paterson and other food cops see the economic recession as an opportunity to drive their agenda. Reporters are now warning about “recession pounds,” and food activists are again demanding new anti-obesity initiatives from the federal government. This is not a coincidence.
It’s no wonder Reuters is now predicting that one of the “food trends for 2009” will be the spreading of meal-restricting measures by the “food nanny state.” But whether we’re in a recession or an economic boom, the science is the same: Physical activity, not diet, is the key to maintaining a healthy weight.