Government Solves All Problems (If Your Name Is Obama)
posted at 2:00 pm on May 12, 2010 by Howard Portnoy
With childhood obesity reaching epidemic proportions in this country, no rational person would argue against the need for action, and pronto. When it comes to the question of what form that action should take, however, there is plenty of room for discussion.
The Obama adminstration’s solution is the same one it promulgates for every problem: more government control. And how better to wield that control than to crack down on the adminstration’s favorite whipping boy—big business? In this case, the specific target is the fast food industry.
Despite adminstration claims that the effort will take the form of “bully pulpit” pressure rather than federal mandates, the tone of early messages from the White House-sponsored Task Force on Childhood Obesity has an intrusive ring to it.
Job one for the Task Force, and its de facto spokesperson Michelle Obama, is gently persuading manufacturers of empty-calorie foods to go on “an advertising diet,” eliminating characters from their marketing campaigns that kids find favor with. And if asking nicely doesn’t work? The task force will attempt to force the FCC to implement new rules on commercials in children’s programming.
Putting aside entirely the questions of ethics and legality (some might argue that what the Task Force is advocating amounts to restraint of trade), “Captain Crunch isn’t Joe Camel,” as Ed Morrissey rightly notes, “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.”
Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz finds the Task Force recommendations wrong-headed as well. He told reporters at a briefing that a “regulatory approach is certainly not where we want to start. You start by pushing self-regulation.”
Nor is Michelle Obama’s message any less threatening when it is aimed at you, the consumer. “No one gets off the hook on this one,” she is quoted as saying, “from governments to schools, corporations to non-profits all the way down to families sitting around their dinner table.” Excuse me? We must have all been out of the room when this woman was invested with the power to make our personal decisions for us.
Some of the ideas being proposed in this initiative have merit. Getting schools to offer more healthful options at lunchtime and increasing opportunities for students to engage more in physical activity are positive steps in the right direction. Overall, however, the problem of childhood obesity should not be viewed as another opportunity for the government to flex its muscles. The goal of persuading parents to do right by their children, moreover, would be better served by a less strident and divisive voice than that of the president’s wife.
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