This week a coalition of the nation’s leading food cops, bureaucrats and trial attorneys gathered in Boston for an assault summit on obesity. The agenda calls for brainstorming on how best to go about taxing, legislating and litigating small waists for us and fat pockets for the lawyers.
Big food is the nouveau public health epidemic that has been targeted with phasers set on demonize.
It began with the fast-food lawsuits. Fat people claimed the food was too cheap so they bought too much. And that restaurant operators should be made to pay for this manipulation.
Then came attacks on soft drinks. The Los Angeles school district pulled the plug on soda sales. Now California is considering a statewide school ban. The bill’s author declares soda consumption begets childhood obesity, citing shoddy evidence that would get an F if used in any term paper.
We already have sin taxes and excise taxes designed to punish freedom of choice and change consumer behavior. Fat taxes are now being proposed by state Sen. Felix Ortiz in New York and other legislators, aiming to charge us all extra money for our favorite foods.
Laugh now if you must, but this is serious business. How long before parents are criminally accountable for allowing their kids to be obese? How long before restaurants post width scales at the fast-food counter similar to the height scales on amusement park rides?
“You must be this thin to order the milkshake.”
That 300,000 deaths per year are caused by obesity is a popular rallying cry. But a New England Journal of Medicine editorial has made it clear that although some claim this number is accurate, it is by no means well established.
It gets worse. Northeastern University professor Richard Daynard, an organizer of the Boston event, claimed that he was a victim of corporate manipulation when a movie theater employee lured him into buying a larger box of popcorn than what he really wanted. The value of the bigger size was too compelling, he argued. Time to sue.
Isn’t obesity a matter of personal responsibility? Not according to Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine President Neal Barnard, who actually claimed in the latest fast-food lawsuit filing that food really is physically addictive, and that chocolate, cheese, meat and sugar act like drugs.
PCRM, by the way, is a front group for animal-rights radicals and has been censured by the American Medical Association.
Not surprisingly, the only foods Barnard does not consider addictive are those that make up his strict vegan diet.
The truth, of course, resides miles away from such rhetoric. The alarmists are at least partly right when the say the obesity epidemic is a nightmare – like a nightmare, it isn’t real. In general, Americans are just a bit heavier than they were 40 years ago. And most of the extra pounds, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research and other government-sponsored research, are attributable to sedentary lifestyles – not diets.
But it’s far easier to point the finger at sugar and super sizes. And restaurants are easier to sue than building owners who install elevators and auto companies that pitch affordable cars, or the Internet vendors that let us buy walking shoes without walking to the store.
So listen carefully when you hear professor Daynard and his trial lawyer friends talk about fat deposits. They’re really referring to their bank accounts, not your love handles.
— Richard Berman is executive director of the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit coalition supported by restaurant operators, food and beverage companies.