Thursday, May 21, 2009

Starving for Reason

We've been quite outspoken about the efforts of the various city and state health commissioners to enforce what they consider healthy eating through targeted taxes and regulations; and Governor Paterson's fat tax-now being unfortunately resurrected by some legislators-is another example of the public sector's intrusion into the lives and choices of New Yorkers.

But is it possible that all of this meddling is a non sequitor? That the causes of the dreaded obesity epidemic lies elsewhere? A recent study cited by Reason magazine's Hit and Run blog tells the tale: "This Just In: U.S. Obesity "Epidemic" Due Solely to Overeating!

That's right, Americans are getting fatter because they're consuming more food: "The amount of food Americans eat has been increasing since the 1970s, and that alone is the cause of the obesity epidemic in the US today. Physical activity—or the lack thereof—has played virtually no role in the rising number of expanding American waistlines, according to research presented at the 2009 European Congress on Obesity in Amsterdam last week."

Which means that soda and Twinkie taxes are besides the point; but that doesn't mean the food industry is off the hook: "The food industry has done such a great job of marketing their products, making the food so tasty that it's almost irresistible, pricing their products just right, and placing them everywhere, that it is very hard for the average person to resist temptation. Food is virtually everywhere, probably even in churches and funeral parlors."

So what's the answer? Reason has it: "So the implied solution seems to be that food industry must be forced to make their products tasteless and unattractive." Which, of course, is silly; so we're back to the dreaded need to actually convince folks to be a bit less gluttonous, and control what they eat.

One opponent of the sin tax movement has it just right; and he gets the last word: "There's a sin tax movement underway for legal activities, too. Rev. Robert Sirico ("Hate the Sin, Tax the Sinner?") looks at the recent proposals to find revenues through federal taxes on sodas and fatty foods, finding this not just economically objectionable but morally suspect as well. Whatever economic or social benefits one can dream up from the sin tax, we must also realize that the decision to tax must be weighed against the social benefits for reducing the behavior by slow and deliberate persuasion and voluntary action. When it comes to public policy, the preferred method of discouraging sin should fall under the category of alternative, mediating institutions, notably family, church, and school."