Government policies that increase the cost of food, preach that soda consumption leads to amputation or impose age limits on sweets will not only fail, they will likely backfire. Overwhelmed with negative information about so many of the products they choose and enjoy, people may throw up their hands and cease efforts to be more selective in what they eat.
Some argue that government has absolutely no role in obesity prevention. But the reality is that government will be involved. It should do so in a limited, targeted fashion, pursuing policies that positively and neutrally inform consumers’ choices and facilitate physical activity, especially for youth. Government could encourage market-driven, private efforts to set standards for advertising and package labeling. It could also provide funds for more physical education in public schools, as well as for safe places for kids in unsafe neighborhoods to play.
Food and beverages are not only physically essential for life; they are a reflection of our personal liberties, our ability to choose. With that in mind, any public health role government pursues can never be so broad that it eats away at our freedoms.
Glenn G. Lammi is chief counsel of the Washington Legal Foundation’s Legal Studies Division.