June 12 2012
Left unchecked, 42 percent of American adults will be obese by 2030.
That was the headline grabbing conclusion of a 400-plus page report released by the Institute of Medicine (IoM) last month, which also found that two-thirds of adults and one-third of children are already overweight or obese.
Yet the federal government has hardly left America’s collective weight problem “unchecked.” In fact, the federal government has spent years and billions of taxpayer dollars trying to do just what the IoM suggests in its lengthy report—reduce our waistlines. The result of this expensive and decades-long government crusade has been nothing more than billions in wasted tax dollars.
In the mid-1950s, President Eisenhower signaled his concern for the state of Americans’ health when he launched the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports—a taxpayer funded entity maintained by every President since. In 1960, President-elect John F. Kennedy wrote an essay for Sports Illustrated called " The Soft American ," where he warned that our “growing softness, our increasing lack of physical fitness, is a menace to our security.” Kennedy went on to call for several government initiatives to “improv[e] the health and vigor of our citizens” — including policies that would make “the physical fitness of our youth...the direct responsibility of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.”
Today, the federal government spends billions trying to get us all to put our forks down. According to the Congressional Research Service, in 2011, the federal government dedicated over $1.1 billion on anti-obesity programs within eight separate federal agencies.
That figure is projected to inch up to $1.2 billion this year. And these estimates don’t even count the state and local government programs as well as private and not-for-profit programs that exist to help people shed pounds.
Yet, despite this multi-agency, decades-long effort, the IoM’s latest report reveals Americans are still getting bigger and are expected to gain more within the next decade. Reasonable people might conclude that we need to change course. They might recognize government simply isn’t effective in helping people lose weight and say it’s time for government to retire from the weight loss industry.
Unfortunately, that was not the conclusion reached by the IoM. In fact, the report calls for even more government meddling because, as one IoM official put it, “the average person cannot maintain a healthy weight in this obesity-promoting environment.” This is sweet music to regulators hungry to exact more control over how the food industry operates and how individuals choose to eat. The IoM even provides a smorgasbord of recommendations for what federal, state and local governments can do to combat fat.
Among the IoM’s more hilarious and sure-to-get-you-punched-in-the-face-by-a-sports-fan recommendations are that athletic arenas begin serving “healthy” snacks. How about some carrot sticks and fruit smoothies while you watch football. Go Steelers! Popular mall food courts are to start selling healthier food , since somehow they’ve never noticed that many vendors already offer salads and other low-calorie options. The IoM also pushes taxes on soft drinks, despite pretty easy-to-find data that shows soda consumption is already down in America and that these taxes do exactly zero to discourage calorie consumption among the obese.
The IoM might have considered in its 400-plus page report how their suggestions will impact an already ailing economy. If the IoM’s recommendations are put in place, higher unemployment rates will follow. Among the IoM’s job-busting recommendations is a call for local governments to adopt zoning laws which would prevent new fast-food restaurants—a major source of employment for young workers—from opening. In a further blow to the food industry, the IoM suggests turning American restaurants into extensions of the school lunch program by requiring them to meet federal nutrition standards (oh yum!), and dictating the price on certain menu items.
The IoM and their food nanny supporters in the White House aren’t concerned about the effect on jobs: They just want greater control over American society generally. By upping the panic-quotient on obesity, Americans might acquiesce to a bigger government to address this “national epidemic.”
The nannies will nanny as long as Americans allow it to happen, but legislators should be aware that food has historically been a motivator for political change. From the bread shortages in France before its bloody revolution to Mahatma Gandhi’s great salt satyagraha that fueled India’s call for independence, food is known to spark rebellion. We’ve seen it in America as well; from the Boston tea party to the whiskey rebellion, Americans do not suffer food taxes lightly.
Americans should also recognize the simple truth that the IoM report avoids: The power to defeat fat does not come from some bureaucrat in Washington. Eating well and moderate exercise take personal commitment and responsibility. It’s time Americans reject government solutions to our personal problems and reclaim our proud tradition of independence.