What do trial lawyers and candy bans have in common? As the nation's waist-lines grew over the past 10 years, so did calls for more and more invasive government controls of what and how much we eat. While anti-obesity puritans have proposed some pretty ludicrous controls (such as putting candy behind the counter, with adult magazines), these five schemes take the cake as the dumbest of the decade.
Fast-food lawsuits. Hungry trial lawyers have long had their eyes set on suing "Big Food" for supposedly "making" people fat. One such lawyer is John Banzhaf, who also has advocated suing doctors and said lawyers should even "go after parents with TVs in their [kids'] rooms."
Fortunately, a federal judge quickly rejected one lawsuit in 2003. Suing food providers is an insult to both common sense and personal responsibility – no one forces someone to buy food.
The "Zoning Diet." One of the more recent policy proposals from the food police is to ban new fast-food restaurants from opening – essentially using zoning policy to target restaurants.
The problem? A recent report by researchers from UC Berkeley and Northwestern University found that people living with quick access to restaurants weren't fatter than those living farther away. And a study last year from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis found that "living near a fast food outlet had little effect on weight" while living near recreational areas like parks and bike paths correlated to a 3- to 6-pound loss in an 8-year-old boy.
Twinkie taxes. This theory, first proposed in the 1990s by Yale professor Kelly Brownell, holds that taxing "bad" foods will make us healthier by reducing our consumption of them. This year, we've seen calls in states and at the federal level for targeted taxes on soft drinks.
Food taxes miss the forest for the trees. All food has calories and there are no "good" or "bad" foods, according to the American Dietetic Association. Taxing sweetened beverages, for example, could result in people switching to untaxed drinks like milk or fruit juice – which actually have more calories per serving.
Banning sweets in schools. In 2004 Texas Agricultural Commissioner Susan Combs banned hundreds of favorite foods unilaterally from schools in the state, including birthday party cupcakes. And anti-obesity activist MeMe Roth (who thinks Santa Claus sets a bad example for kids) has boycotted Girl Scout cookies.
The hype about what foods schools sell may be vastly overstated. Obesity researcher Roland Strum reported last year that in-school purchases of snack food had "no significant effect on children's [body mass index]. Nor do we observe significant changes in overall consumption of healthy and unhealthy foods, and in physical activity."
National Food Czar. In an administration that has seen everything from a Great Lakes czar to a Sudan czar, a federal food czar might not be such a stretch. It was actually recommended as far back as 1998 by a panel of diet scolds organized by the National Academy of Sciences as a way to centralize nutrition policy.
The problem? As we've seen from the previous four examples, we could get stuck with an absolutely boorish, finger-wagging food scold. (Case in point: Combs, the cupcake-hating commissioner, dubbed herself a "Food Czarina.")
What's in store for the next 10 years? No one can say. But if we've learned anything from the last decade, it's that fat-headed policies aren't a solution to slimming down.