By Diane Katz
It’s enough to make Ronald McDonald join the Tea Party.
San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors is seriously mulling a ban on the Happy Meal and other toy giveaways associated with foods containing more sugar, sodium, and fat than the proponents regard as appropriate. The proposed “Healthy Food Incentives Ordinance” also conditions a free trinket on half-cup servings of both a fruit and vegetable.
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Obnoxious as this is—although not by California standards, perhaps—the proposal is the latest attempt by government officials at every level to do something about the “obesity epidemic.” Unable (just yet) to dictate what we eat at every meal, they are instead limiting consumers’ choices by cracking down on restaurants and food manufacturers.
The city of Los Angeles, for example, issued a moratorium on new fast food joints in low-income neighborhoods. New York City schools now regulate the types of foods that students may sell for fundraising; the acceptable products include Fiber One bars, Soy Crisps, and Ayala’s Herbal Water. The customary birthday cupcakes have been banned in various school districts across the country. And last year, the state of Illinois hiked taxes on soft drinks and candy by 525 percent—for the sake of the children.
But even a cursory examination of the scholarly literature uncovers solid evidence that physical inactivity—not food intake—is the primary cause of obesity. As noted by Dr. Mark McClellan, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, “Actual levels of caloric intake among the young haven’t appreciably changed over the last 20 years.”
No matter what the Food Fascists claim, obesity rates are not the result of a “market failure.” In fact, food manufacturers have introduced 35,272 new products labeled “low fat” or “no fat” between 1987 and 2004, according to research by Michael Marlow and Alden Shiers of California Polytechnic State University.
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It is noteworthy that San Francisco’s 13-page proposed ordinance delineates a variety of local programs already dedicated to combating obesity, including Shape Up San Francisco’s Walking Challenge, a Safe Routes to School program, and a Rethink Your Drink marketing campaign. There’s also the Healthy Eating, Active Living campaign to encourage families receiving government assistance to eat healthy foods.
“Despite these measures,” the ordinance states, “childhood obesity rates continue to rise.”
Well, duh. In other words, county officials’ previous efforts to control people’s eating habits have failed. But that’s hardly surprising given that their premises are flawed and their remedies misguided. And yet they insist on serving up ever more.
Evidently, the Happy Meal henchmen haven’t noticed—or simply don’t care—that Americans are just plain fed up with ill-conceived regulatory antics. If anyone is going to be forced to diet, it should be the politicians and regulators who attempt daily to beef up their powers.