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Thanks ... But I DO Want Fries with That!

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Driving home last night having my usual evening commute conversation with one of the sibs, we touched on the topic of a “fat tax” on junk food. Like all movements, it started quietly … someone tried to sue Mc Donald’s for “making” him obese … and lost. Feeding off a lawyer’s failure … the paternalists scooped up the carcass, skinned it, took the hide, stretched it across the paternal hallow ideology that Americans MUST be protected from themselves and started to beat the new drum. Can you hear it?

“Lawmakers everywhere should take note. Efforts to require fast food restaurants to post nutritional information on their menus have been gaining ground across the country. Sixteen municipalities including California, Seattle, and Portland have passed laws similar to NYC’s, and the Menu Education and Labeling Act, which would impose labeling regulations nationwide, is pending in Congress. The bill would extend the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, which requires food manufacturers to include nutritional information on their packaging, to restaurants. We all know how effective that law was. Since 1990, obesity has more than doubled.”
- Wall Street Journal

It started with the idea that people in low-income and high minority neighborhoods that trend towards higher obesity rates would make different food choices if restaurants were required to post an item’s calorie content. I live in California and, as is typical of California, we took things a step farther, all the fast food restaurants in the State must post calorie content. I have never requested to see that information. To be honest, if I am eating at a fast food restaurant or any restaurant for that matter, I assume I am ingesting maximum calories and fat. It appears I am not alone in saying “thanks for the information, now just give me my cheeseburger without the heaping side of pious lecture.” Granted, I am not low income and I am not a minority, but I am a consumer.

“Published online in the journal Health Affairs, the NYU and Yale study is noteworthy because it considers the practical significance of food labeling laws. The researchers examined 1,100 restaurant receipts from McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King and KFC franchises in low income, high-minority neighborhoods where obesity is most prevalent. They found that the poor fast-food customers that the law intended to help weren’t affected.”
- Wall Street Journal

Nope, not affected. The Government gave people all the information and what happened? People continued to maintain their current habits. Huh, go figure. You cannot control other people’s behavior … what a concept!

“The lawmakers who enacted the calorie posting regulations succumbed to the fallacy that everyone thinks like them. They probably reasoned that because they would make healthier choices if presented with nutritional information, everyone else would as well. But maybe what consumers actually want is a delicious meal at a low price.”
- Wall Street Journal

So now that we have fully embraced the idea that, hey we like our high calorie, low nutrition food, what are the paternalists to do? How will they protect us from ourselves? Ahhhhh, if you cannot control behavior through education, then try taxation. While few in Congress have openly embraced the idea of a “fat tax” on junk food, I suspect it will soon be openly discussed along with health care reform. The lobbyists will start whispering it in the ears of the politicians, “People cannot take care of themselves. They make poor choices. We must help them. They are not responsible for the errors of their ways. It is the evil snack food companies. Tax the snack food. Tax the snack food.”

 I had to ponder, when the tax on snack foods fails to change our behavior, which it will, then what does the government levy a fat tax against next?

Cable TV companies? Absolutely! If it were not for the evilness of twenty-four-hour on-demand programming, people would exercise more.

Internet service providers? Absolutely! If it were not for the Internet, and web surfing, people would exercise more.

Publishers? Absolutely! If it were not for those ne’er do-wells who make books so enticing, people would exercise more.

The movie industry? Major league sports teams? Video games? Libraries? Hell, we should tax schools for requiring us to sit on our arses for hours a day! All these industries and, it could be argued, many more, encourage us to be sedentary and therefore, contribute to the obesity epidemic. The list could go on, and on, and on, and on …

Now, between you and me, I can just as easily become obese cooking at home with “non-snack foods” like butter, cream, and cheese.

I do not drink soda, nor eat many snack foods, and keep very few in the house for the boys. I do cook with butter, but I do not use red meat. My boys do have sugary breakfast cereals but they also have oatmeal. We do not patronize fast food restaurants more than once a month … if even that. We do have cable TV, high-speed internet, video games, books, and computers. We are not perfect but we are not obese. Why is that?

Being healthy is a choice, it is a state of mind, and it is a commitment to you. The government can tax all it wants but you cannot control other people’s behavior, even through taxation. Furthermore, the hidden message in a fat tax is, “It is not my fault. It is the fault of the snack/fast food companies that I am obese, otherwise the government would not be trying to regulate such an evil industry.”

I do not drag my sorry arse out of bed at 6 a.m. every day to run three miles because it is fun. I do it because I feel really, really good afterward, because I know it is good for my heart, because I know it lowers my stress level, because I know I will sleep better, because doing that run helps set the tone for my entire day. Most importantly because it sets a good example for my children. That example being, “I am important and taking care of myself is important.” (Oh, and so I can have the occasional onion rings completely guilt free!)

I encourage my sons to go out and play … for the same reason I require them to read for thirty minutes every night … because it is good for them.

Being healthy is a lifestyle choice … and so is being unhealthy. Until the paternalists and the government recognize that a fat tax only enables bad behavior by allowing individuals to abdicate personal responsibility by blaming evil fat encouraging industries, the obesity epidemic will continue unabated. Instead they just keep on banging that drum of no personal responsibility.

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