On Sept. 13, New York City approved its ban on sodas served in cups larger than 16 ounces. Despite polls finding that most New Yorkers oppose the portion-size prohibition, the city's unelected health bureaucrats did it anyway.
If you're not a New Yorker, you might breathe a sigh of relief that your government isn't this nutty. After all, you don't live in a city whose health commissioner believes, “Every one of those people (citizens), I consider to be my patient.” Unlike New Yorkers, you will still have choice.
Don't breathe easy too soon. Across the country, governments are introducing proposals to restrict food and drink choices in the name of fighting obesity. A Nevada legislator has proposed a tax on so-called junk food. Two California localities want to place sin taxes on soda. And Harvard's hometown in Massachusetts wants to climb on New York's soda prohibition bandwagon.
When politicians call for taxing fatty or sugary foods and beverages, they argue that by making “bad” food more expensive we'll eat less of it and lose weight. But a typical supermarket offers more than 38,000 different items; there are ways around the “bad food” tax.
Think about this: juice and milk have calories. Some healthier items are even as high in calories as the so-called bad foods. The only way to gain weight is to consume more calories than you burn. That's why the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics advises that “the total diet or overall pattern of food eaten is the most important focus of a healthful eating style.”
Don't expect the myth that bad food causes obesity to die easily, though. The activists who want to deny us choice over our dinner plates have a plan to take it away. Goal one is to convince Americans that they're helpless “McVictims” — to borrow a skeptical physician's phrase — who are literally addicted to food.
Kelly Brownell of Yale has been promoting “bad food” taxes with little legislative success for more than 15 years. He and his colleagues have created a “Food Addiction Scale” that purports to show how hooked on tasty treats people are. Nobody's robbing the candy store for chocolate-covered pretzels, but Brownell has said that “society does not have the luxury to await scientific certainty” before adopting heavy-handed policies.
Because of food's supposed “addictiveness,” University of California-San Francisco researcher Robert Lustig and other writers propose banning all-you-care-to-eat buffets, late-night service at fast-food restaurants and even the sale of sweets to kids. A “Cheeseburger Control Store” (like the state-run “ABC” liquor stores in many states) hasn't been proposed, yet. But before you say it'll never happen, one of those articles examined “portion control for food servings.” That sounds an awful lot like the New York City soda ban.
New York City's imminent fat-fighting failure won't stop the ruthless march of government paternalists who want control over everything we eat. After all, they think we're their “patients.” And they demand that we take their medicine.
Wilson is the senior research analyst at the Center for Consumer Freedom.