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March 10, 2004

The right to eat

Obesity is not a “crisis,” which the dictionary defines as “an unstable or crucial…state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending,” particularly one with “a highly undesirable outcome.”

Obesity is a problem, and mainly not a social problem, either, but an individual problem for one fat person at a time.

Today’s news reports quote officials and advocates that it is a “public-health crisis” and an “epidemic.” Tommy Thompson, the federal secretary for Health and Human Services, is quoted saying, “We need to tackle America’s weight issues as aggressively as we are addressing smoking and tobacco.”

Some individuals do need to tackle their individual problems. But this story is not framed on an individual basis. In using words like “epidemic” and making comparisons to the campaign against tobacco, it implicitly calls for governmental action.

The story talks about what Bush is doing, what the Food and Drug Administration is doing, what the Department of Agriculture is doing. It paraphrases advocates who want “to encourage more healthful eating and force the food industry to improve products…” (Italics mine.)

Force: that means government. This article is a call for government to busy itself in our lives by telling us what we have to eat, and what we can't eat. More jobs for do-gooders and busybodies.

Let us be clear about this. Obesity is a personal medical problem. Its cause is not lack of dollars; it is not lack of knowledge; it is not lack of “access” to arrugula and grapefruit; it is in most cases the choices people make. Those choices are their business. In some cases it is hard-wired into their metabolism, and that matter is their business, too.

Make an exception for kids in public schools. As the proprietor of those schools, government has to think about what kind of food it wants to offer in them. That is a legitimate public question. But what the rest of us eat, as long as it is within the normal realm of human food, is clean and honestly sold, is not a public question. I don’t want the government using the tax code, or the tort system, telling me what to eat. It’s none of their business.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at March 10, 2004 03:42 PM



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