On the Right to Personal Choice
That government risks infringing on our right to choose what to eat, the authors of the Lancet article suggest, is a phantom argument: “Policy interventions for obesity can only be realistically directed at the environment (making healthy choices easier) rather than the individual (compelling them to take the healthy choices)… For this reason, obesity prevention policies do not proscribe particular eating and physical activity behaviours and are thus much less intrusive of human liberties than many policies already in place to control other public health problems,” such as seat belt laws and smoking restrictions in public spaces.
Taxing sodas and restricting marketing to children does not mean that Coca-Cola and Pop-Tarts will be taken off supermarket shelves. What these measures do, rather, is discourage people from making bad choices on a regular basis. The junk food will always be around for anyone who wants it.
On Industry Regulating Itself
Adopting meaningful measures to reverse the obesity epidemic is simply not a tenable option for the food and beverage industry. Big Food’s mandate is to make a profit and to make more of it year after year, which it can only do by getting people to buy and consume ever more food. The food industry does, however, put on a good face.
As Kelly Brownell, director of the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, says, “I expect history will look back with dismay on the celebration of baby steps industry takes (such as public–private partnerships with health organizations, “healthy eating” campaigns, and corporate social responsibility initiatives) while it fights viciously against meaningful change (such as limits on marketing, taxes on products such as sugared beverages, and regulation of nutritional labeling).”
But there’s evidence of self-correcting market forces at work, isn’t there? In response to the obesity epidemic and other health concerns, food companies have developed many healthy alternatives. “But introducing healthier processed foods,” writes Dr. Brownell, “does not mean unhealthy foods will be supplanted, and might simply represent the addition of more calories to the food supply. Furthermore, the companies have not promised to sell less junk food. Quite the contrary…” Big Food’s chief objective — to sell more food — is simply at odds with public health goals.
The introduction of the Prevention and Public Health Fund through the Affordable Care Act marks a pivotal change in government’s approach to health care, directing resources to programs that look to prevent illness and disease before they happen. But, as many public health experts argue, government will have to take far bolder measures for any real progress to be made against the epidemic of obesity, diabetes and many other diet-related diseases the world now faces.
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