Nanny Bloomberg’s Food Police Go National

Jeff Stier Senior Fellow, National Center for Public Policy Research
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If you liked Mayor Bloomberg’s approach to controlling how New Yorkers eat, you are going to love what federal nutrition nannies are planning for the entire U.S. population.

The top brass of Bloomberg’s food police, now top Obama administration health officials, are preparing dietary guidelines for the entire country. Despite the name, the guidelines are more than just suggestions on what to eat. A range of federal programs, from SNAP to military food allowances, are pegged to model diets based on the“guidelines.”

Yet minutes from the closed-door meetings of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee reads like a wish-list for food police and environmental activists.

The architect of many of New York City’s nanny-state polices, Dr. Sonia Angell, now runs the Noncommunicable Disease Unit for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC is headed up by Bloomberg’s former health department chief, Dr. Thomas Frieden.

In invited testimony to the Dietary Advisory Guidelines Committee in March, Dr. Angell boasted about her work in New York City and how it should be a model for not only new guidelines, but new bans.

Angell’s case in point: the City’s artificial trans-fats ban in restaurants. She used the evolution of the policy to elucidate her thinking about educational campaigns recommending voluntary dietary changes (bad), versus government enforced bans on ingredients (good).

Dr. Angell explained that the City’s 2005-2006 “market-based voluntary strategy” encouraging the reduction of trans-fats in restaurants was entirely ineffective, so City officials believed “we had, if not an ethical responsibility, certainly a public health responsibility to take action.”

She touted the benefits of bans, which change “the entire food supply to a default that is a healthier default. It isn’t about individual decision-making anymore, that’s taken out of it.”

Dr. Angell’s ideology was a hit with the committee.

Before the testimony, committee co-chair Dr. Alice H. Lichtenstein introduced Angell as one of her “professional heroes.” It’s no wonder why. In addition to the trans-fat ban, Angell also planned Mayor Bloomberg’s government food procurement policy which led to a ban on all food donations to City homeless shelters because bureaucrats couldn’t verify that the contributions met specific nutritional standards.

Dr. Angell wasn’t the only expert with whacky ideas.

Dr. Willaim Dietz, touted by the committee as “one of the most internationally esteemed obesity researchers and scholars in the field,” testified, “I think the problem with the U.S. diet is how many choices we have.”

The committee is using their meetings to advance ideas that go well beyond the scope of the congressionally mandated update to dietary guidelines. For instance, they’ve are seeking to understand how interventions used in other countries, such as Mexico’s new soda tax, could “benefit Americans.”

In a January meeting, committee member Dr. Miriam Nelson focused the importance of changing the food environment and addressing “sustainability” of food to make sure food has the “littlest impact on the environment.”

Dr. Nelson’s invited expert, Dr. Kate Clancy, a Visiting Scholar at the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, told the committee that it would be “perilous” not to take global climate change into account when dishing out dietary advice. She also advised that urban gardens are an “important” source of food.

This isn’t nutrition, this is code language for environmental activism.

If members of the committee and their selected experts get their way, we’ll be paying more for food and not eating any healthier. So if the committee follows through with it’s plan to recommend “plant-based diets,” our soldiers may have to switch from sliced turkey to tofurky.

The less tangible impact is worth noting, as well. Whether it invokes a specific policy change or not, when the official government position on food policy changes, consumers listen. We saw this with USDA’s release of the food pyramid in 1991. While intended to be a gentle guide for the American public, it fundamentally changed Americans’ eating habits, most notably with respect to carbohydrate consumption. In the first ten years after the food pyramid’s release, obesity rates climbed 61 percent. When the government advises the American people on how to eat, they listen. The problem is that they haven’t exactly gotten the science right in the past, and they seem to be making blanket prescriptions to fit their own pre-existing opinions this time around.

It shouldn’t take 50 federal staffers , outside consultants, and a team of self-congratulatory experts to suggest we go easy on the fries. But that’s what it takes to prepare this diet of heavy-handed environmentalism, food taxes, and nanny state food bans coming from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. It won’t improve how we eat. Instead, it will restrict individual decisionmaking and further bloat federal control over our lives.

Jeff Stier is a Senior Fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C., and heads its Risk Analysis Division.