Should The Government Be Responsible for Regulating Obesity?

Now that sugar has been proven to make us fat and contribute to heart disease, here’s the next question: should it be up the government to regulate it?

We’ve been asking this question for awhile, coming back to whether or not we should enforce a “fat tax” or even go for all out bans of the “bad stuff.” New York banned trans fats in 2006, which eventually led to the FDA’s 2013 preliminary ruling on a national ban. In California, lawmakers proposed a bill that would require soda companies to put warning labels on their bottles, and in January, Mexico’s soda tax went into effect. Are bad foods the next tobacco?

Often the question comes down to whether or not government bans and taxes work. For others it’s a matter of personal freedom; you should be able to buy and eat what you want, and reducing obesity comes down to individually choosing to eat better.

But how does that personal choice fair in a world of fast food chains and industrial agriculture? As it turns out, the free market isn’t doing a whole lot for public health figures. Even the World Health Organization has told governments that they should — and can — be doing more to curb obesity since according to a new WHO study, the more deregulated the market, the more fast food consumption and the more health problems.

We might think we have a personal choice about what we eat, but while fast food and soda companies may promote consuming in moderation, with all of the addictive qualities of these foods, it’s no surprise that we have a hard time doing exactly that. Personal choice isn’t so personal anymore; it has already been decided for us.

“The obesity epidemic and the problems with overeating don’t have too much to do with people overeating fruits and healthy foods. They have a lot to do with people overeating excess sugars and fats,” said Nicole Avena, a faculty member at the New York Obesity Research Center at Columbia University told the New York Times.

And maybe that’s part of the problem. Producing excess sugar and fats has become cheap, so our personal choice when we sit at the restaurant or stand in front of the grocery aisle are more skewed by what products are cheap and readily available. And that isn’t always vegetables.

When it comes to food and government regulation, some argue that we have to forget soda taxes and think bigger picture.  If we want to deal with the problem of public obesity then we need to go to the source: the cheap food that’s produced and then used in these foods. According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, only 1 percent of food subsidies go to fruits and vegetables. If we want to get Americans back on a healthier track, then we have to stop making things like corn, meat and dairy (which get 87 percent of subsidies) so much cheaper.

That same study also points out that the government “purchases surplus foods like cheese, milk, pork, and beef for distribution to food assistance programs — including school lunches. The government is not required to purchase nutritious foods.”

Is the health situation bad enough to necessitate an intervention?

From a mere economic perspective, yes, because as we can see, the market is failing to keep us healthy.

“Economists generally agree that government intervention, including taxation, is justified when the market fails to provide the optimum amount of a good for society’s well-being,” says Oliver Mytton of the British Heart Foundation’s Health Promotion Research Group, co-author of a report in the British Medical Journal on the effect of food taxes on different populations.

To truly change the direction of public health, we will need personal and policy change, and not just in the form of taxes. We must build a system that doesn’t keep fast food cheap and fruit and vegetables expensive. Because that is a system that truly isn’t sustainable, or healthy. It is simply a system that keeps big industry wealthy and the population sick.

Photo Credit: Vox Efx


Lee N.
Amanda N11 months ago

The only problem with meat is its impact on the environment. Sorry but it's now well known that the risks posed by saturated fat are at the very least overblown. The sugar is the problem, without glucose and the consequent spike in insulin fat eaten is fat flushed out. And everyone else doesn't know how brains work. Still believing in "free will" and willpower is like still believing that depressed people can just "cheer up". Or believing in the Bible. There are very real physiological mechanisms that go to work when you fail to discipline yourself to say, avoid sugar, or in your cases, fail to read a scientific article once in a while. It's time to join the rest of us educated people in 2016. Sugar has been proven to have the same long term effects on the brain as crack cocaine. Let's get it out of our society already.

Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for the article.

Biby C.
Biby C3 years ago

While the government should not be responsible, it could, however, help to discourage obesity by slapping a heavy tax on sugar, thereby pushing up prices of foodstuffs laden with huge amounts of sugar. Since healthcare is spending a humongous amount of money in treating diseases related to sugar consumption, the tax can be used to give healthcare a shot in the arm (no pun intended). It's a win win situation.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill3 years ago

There is this thing called "free will". This falls into that category. If I should choose to eat lots of unhealthy foods, that is my choice, government has no place in that.

Geoff P.
Geoff P3 years ago

We make the choices

Kyle N.
Kyle N3 years ago

NOPE! It's none of their business!

Gerald L.
Gerald L3 years ago

@ Jan N.; "I don't think you mean regulating obesity, which implies the government decides who will obese, how obese they can be, how long they can be obese, etc.

That said, NO, I do not need the government telling me what to eat or how to eat. I will make my own choices, thank you very much, and everyone else can do the same"

Your CAT avatar makes me think of the HIGH rate of PET DIABETES because they use a majority of grains, when cats especially should only eat meat. So enjoy buying insulin and syringes for your pets.

Tell me would "citizens right to know" supercede Big Biz ability to sell us crap making us sick
& obese. Or should our representatives continue to coddle industry. Who are they there for? Is it only to collect graft and election contributions from corporate america?

Gerald L.
Gerald L3 years ago

contd; contd; U. of Toronto had a new building under construction and the brilliant minds there did not think to have their Architects spec healthy building materials. A Cluster of Construction workers were falling sick from off-gassing building materials during the new build. Now how many occupants, students, staff were sickened once the building was ready for use. In Canada we have a Federal "Indoor Air Quality" group which has NO Legislative teeth. (Fema trailers, Katrina) Domestic Consumer Products; Materials like composite wood products, cork, furniture finishes, flame retardants, strand board sheeting for building use. Evaluating Uncertainty with Fuzzy Logic
2.7.1. Challenge the Chemical Community to produce Environmentally friendly Chemicals &
manufacturing processes
2.8.1. Corporate Image & Liability
2.8.2. Chemists Liability; confront with the new concept of "citizens right to know" this will
change Environmental management. This Chapter provided a basic understanding of the chemical, toxicological & ecological factors... BUT it does not deal with the direct effects on humans & human health.

One resource that helped me was for consumer goods, vehicle ratings etc. My lungs ached for days after trying 1 breed of a chemical cauldron on wheels.

Gerald L.
Gerald L3 years ago

Read this document; Green Solvents for Chemistry : Perspectives and Practice: ...
Chapter Environmental Sustainability; encourages dialogue with non-scientists in plain language.
1.1.3. Pollution Prevention Revolution (Hirschorn 1997) wrote that the Pollution Prevention Revolution has failed, but that ultimately it will succeed... to include the wellbeing of the global environment.
The P2 Revolution cannot be advanced primarily through Industry leadership ( bia$ by profit$) It must come from scientists & engineers working for government and the environmental community activists and non-governmental organizations. Construction Industry; Customers must demand LOW or NO VOC (volatile organic compounds) U. of Toronto had a new bu

Read more:

Gerald L.
Gerald L3 years ago

***James D. "our food crops that the old methods did (subsequently our food crops have as little as 50% of the nutrient value of the same crops 50 years ago). Our bodies are nutrient starved, poisoned, stressed by poor environment, and our health destroyed by the consumption of too many carbs and 100 times more sugar intake than generations of just 60 years ago."

So true James, and as citizens we have the "right to know". Obviously because of the entwinement of regulators with Industry, eg. former Staff lawyers at the FDA now working for Big Food, Agra, Pharma. No wonder we are left in the dark. Then we have the perversion of Bayer Pharmaceutical with their subsidiary Bayer Agra selling herbicides etc. making us sick > selling us Lab rats more medications. Ag GAG legislation etc.

We have to support and develop more activist groups going public. Erin Brokovich had great success, I will share a link next post.