By now, you’ve probably heard about the new White House initiative to combat childhood obesity, spearheaded by First Lady Michelle Obama. It’s a noble goal. In anticipation of this announcement, Forbes columnist and American Enterprise Institute senior fellow Karlyn Bowman took a look on Monday at where the public stands regarding obesity, and found that Americans overwhelmingly support personal responsibility:
People see personal responsibility as key. In the CBS poll, 89% said obesity can mostly be controlled with diet and exercise, while 7% said it is out of our hands. This emphasis may be one reason Americans are not enthusiastic about new taxes on unhealthful behaviors.
In a Harris Interactive/Tax Foundation online poll from early 2009 on general tax attitudes, 36% favored a tax on sugary drinks, while 58% were opposed to it. Twenty-three percent favored a tax on foods with salt (71% were opposed), and 39% for junk food in general (56% opposed). On all three items, the opposition was strong: Of the 58% who were opposed to the tax on sugary drinks, for example, 41% were strongly opposed.
Other recent surveys have tied these taxes to health care reform costs, and this impacts the numbers. In an April 2009 Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 52% favored increasing taxes on unhealthy snack foods to "help pay for health care reform and provide coverage for more of the uninsured," but a strong 46% were opposed.
The ending serves as a warning that Americans are more willing to support taxes on “bad” foods if they’re couched as “helping” health care reform. And while the Los Angeles Times reported last week that soft drink taxes are dead federally, soft drink tax crusader Kelly Brownell brags that “We're getting contacted by a new city or state almost every day who are seriously thinking about the idea of a tax.”
The political pendulum is certainly swinging. But with the vast majority of Americans believing in personal responsibility when it comes to weight control, the ploys of self-anointed “food police” who practice social engineering via the tax code face an uphill battle.