As any parent knows, there are a lot of unhealthy food choices in the market for children — and adults, for that matter. TV marketing usually emphasizes the most sugary, fatty choices to families; watch Saturday morning television if anyone without kids doubts it. Schools routinely offer some of the worst possible choices to students at all levels, mainly in an attempt to raise revenues. Which of these problems should become the purview of the federal government? President Obama says all of them:
A White House report warns, “The childhood obesity epidemic in America is a national health crisis.”
The review by the Task Force on Childhood Obesity says one out of every three children is overweight or obese. The task force is a key part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to solve the problem of obesity within a generation. President Obama ordered the comprehensive review of the issue.
First the crisis, and then the intervention:
The task force wants junk food makers and marketers to go on what amounts to an advertising diet. It says media characters that are often popular with kids should only be used to promote healthy products. If voluntary efforts fail to limit marketing of less healthy products to young viewers, the task force suggests the FCC should consider new rules on commercials in children’s programming. It also challenges food retailers to stop using in-store displays to sell unhealthy food items to children.
The advisory panel proposes better food content labeling on products and vending machines. Restaurants and vending machine companies are urged to display calorie counts. The experts say the FDA and USDA should cooperate with the food and beverage industries to develop a standard system of nutrition labeling on the front of packages. The study also suggests that restaurants should re-evaluate portion sizes, improve kids’ menus and list more healthy food choices.
The White House study says school systems should consider efforts to promote healthier food in cafeterias. One idea: “swap deep fryers for salad bars.”
Left unstated is whether the federal government will go as far as Santa Clara County, CA in banning Happy Meals, but that’s the direction in which the White House clearly wants to move. They want to use whatever power they have to limit choices to children and adults, and interpose themselves in place of parents. It comes as part of the same effort that led Congress to include a federal menu mandate in ObamaCare that will put small restaurant chains at a serious disadvantage to larger operations. It puts the nanny in nanny-state government.
If the federal government wants to do anything, it should limit itself to the schools. Cafeteria choices are limited and mostly lousy, and vending machines offer the worst alternatives to kids locked into facilities for hours on end. Parents would do better to pack lunches and snacks, but they certainly can demand an end to high-sugar, high-fat foods on campus. We don’t need the federal government’s involvement to do that, but since they’re already involved in what should be local decisions on education, they at least have the entree to apply pressure in the right direction.
The effort to press restaurants into “re-evaluating” portion sizes sounds voluntary, at least for the moment, but the FCC and FDA involvement does not. The federal government has no business telling private enterprises what kind of mascots to use in advertising or restricting their ability to advertise a legal product. Unfortunately, we have precedent with the tobacco and liquor industries, and doubtless nanny-staters will rely on that precedent. The only problem with that argument is that Captain Crunch isn’t Joe Camel, and sugary cereals aren’t addictive. They may be bad choices for habitual eating, but the federal government doesn’t exist to save us from a few bad choices. If that becomes their mission, then we will have few choices left to ourselves at all, and we can stop pretending to be a free people and admit that we have made ourselves wards of the nanny-state.
When ObamaCare came up for debate, we warned that government control of health care would provide leverage for massive oversight on personal choices. This is exactly what we can expect — with the rationalization that we end up paying for the health care costs associated with poor choices. The proper approach would be to make everyone responsible for their own health-care costs and let that act to limit choices instead. We need a healthy dose of Mind Your Own Business in government policy these days.
What do you think the proper level of government involvement should be? Take the poll: