Nanny state … Big Brother …
How long will it be before citizens are deputized and trained to knock a cupcake out of your hand?
We have been passing anti-obesity legislation for a while now. New York City is definitely the vanguard, and Mayor Bloomberg has actually had some success reversing obesity statistics in kids there. But is this really worth it? Should we do more? Could we approach this from a different angle?
Current Anti-Obesity Legislation
There are quite a few places in the U.S. that require calorie labeling on menus. A national law that passed in 2010 has been delayed from taking effect due to the FDA’s concerns about the “thorny” issues of calorie labeling related to grocery chains that have thousands of prepared food items that would need to be labeled. (You can thank the grocers’ lobbyists for the delay, I’m sure. Frankly they’re being cry-babies … suck it up and just do it!)
Are there any other anti-obesity laws nationwide? … Um, no, that’s all we got. A law passed three years ago that one government agency can’t — or won’t — implement. Okay … gotcha.
Easy Ways to Fight Obesity
Michelle Obama made a rather brave speech early on in her husband’s first term about making things healthier, especially snacks for kids … but have you heard her talk about it much lately?
Nope … she’s been sticking with the Move60 campaign, encouraging kids to be active for at least 60 minutes a day. Admirable for sure, but clearly not the whole solution. The First Lady is simply saying we need to make “healthier food choices” as opposed to, “Yo Big Food, clean up your damn act!”
But I have some ideas … ideas that can circumvent Big Food rather easily … that will cost a fraction of the price of rising health care costs.
Make food stamps healthier. Steer purchases for food stamps … some farmers’ markets are accepting them at a 2-for-1 face value so that poor families can have access to more fruits and vegetables. Why don’t we adjust food stamps upward (just a bit) and give people incentives for buying healthier foods? It would take just a few months to get the logistics worked out and would have an immediate impact.
Give basic nutrition classes to food stamp recipients. Sadly, obesity is skewed toward the poor and I feel this is partly an education issue and partly because those very low budgets “force” families to choose cheap, not-so-healthy processed foods. If giving them incentives to buy healthier food will help, how about educating them on how to prepare that food for their families? People have to learn proper serving sizes, easy menu options, etc.
Public Service Announcements. PSAs actually work quite well. This worked for trash in the ’70s (remember the crying Native American?) and it worked for anti-smoking campaigns … Let’s do it for obesity too. Get Michelle Obama munching on a celery stick. How about a bunch of celebrities talking about healthy eating and exercise idea? I would listen to The Rock if he told me to eat a carrot and workout every day, wouldn’t you?
Medical education. Let’s train doctors to talk about obesity more. Let’s give them booklets and other resources so people can start to deal with their problems instead of guiltily nodding when told, “You really should lose some weight.” Doctors are trusted, work in the community with the obese the most (hey, they do get sick more), and often don’t know the first thing about proper weight maintenance themselves.
Nutrition counseling by BMI. There are a lot of problems with the BMI scale. Yes, Brad Pitt famously counts as obese if you take his measurements and clearly it’s all muscle, no fat. But BMI is the best population measurement we have. What if HMOs, with government assistance, offered nutritional counseling for people with BMIs in the obesity range? Give people a gentle nudge and a little help instead of just a dire warning.
I can see my libertarian readers screaming that this is Big Brother and ridiculous and we need to get out of people’s lives, but Bloomberg looked at the numbers before he decided to act. The ideas above are way cheaper than treating the health problems that are rampant thanks to our obesity epidemic.
What do you think? Are we doing too much or too little? Or does it matter … people are gonna eat what they’re gonna eat and there’s nothing we can do to stop ‘em. I would love to hear your ideas.