Monday, October 15, 2012

Buttons fly off shirts, pant seats tear, and chairs break in the Subway commercial that’s made us all laugh too many times because of the “button-popping consequences” suffered by fast-food eating Americans in the video. While the commercial’s effects are obviously dramatized, there is one point the video makes that’s undeniable. America is getting fatter, and fatter, and fatter. In fact, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, in 2008, 34.3% of American adults were considered obese, up from 13.4% in 1960. Also, the American Journal of Preventive Medicine is predicting that 42% will be obese in 2030.
As Americans, we, and our politicians, have begun to look at obesity as a national crisis. Unfortunately, the government has started to take it upon itself to solve this crisis which, in reality, shouldn’t involve the government at all. It’s up to individuals, not the government, to control their eating habits and watch their own weight. The government simply cannot regulate what we consume as Americans for three basic reasons: (1) obesity can’t be stopped with one simple law, there are two many factors contributing to it, (2) the government is largely uneducated and doesn’t have adequate resources to understand and effectively put obesity legislation into effect, and (3) regulating our diet takes away our basic right of deciding what we consume.

            No matter what you may have heard, there is no one single cause of this recent spike in obesity. In a July 2012 study published in the Union Leader, researchers found that the leading contributor to the obesity spike has been the decline in smoking.
Cigarettes help extinguish hunger, and when smokers stopped smoking they began eating more and more. However, the smoking decline still only accounted for 2% of the total obesity increase.
 In addition, the study concluded that the contributions of fast-food prices, grocery prices, and restaurant prevalence to the obesity spike were all statistically insignificant. That’s right; the excepted suspects of the obesity crisis really had almost no effect at all. If there are hundreds of equally important factors contributing to obesity, the government will never be able to pinpoint one of them with a law and expect obesity rates to fall. Our government shouldn’t be wasting its time trying to pass ineffective laws on obesity when there are much more pressing political issues at hand. It’s time for “politicians and bureaucrats (to) turn their attention to other matters” than obesity, said one USA Today editorial author. With so many contributors, the government needs to understand it isn’t possible to pass effective legislation on obesity and move on to more important issues.

            The American government is also behind-the-times and even misinformed when it comes to comprehending and putting anti-obesity laws into effect. First off, “scientific understanding of human nutrition, diet needs, and the causes of obesity improves constantly. The government is ill-equipped to understand and integrate these advances into its legislation or regulation.” said Marshall Manson, vice president of Public Affairs at the Center for Individual Freedom. With the science behind obesity always changing and new discoveries being made, it would be impossible to pass a law and then expect it to be applicable even a year later. Sooner or later a discovery or advancement will be made by researchers that would make an obesity law inaccurate and controversial.
Evidence of this can be found in 1970, when the US Department of Agriculture published dietary guidelines that encouraged Americans to eat more low-fat foods. However, Americans compensated for this by simply eating greater quantities of healthier food. Although calories from fat sources decreased over the next 30 years, the number of fat calories consumed by a person went up because of the overall calorie increase. So by trying to combat fatty foods, the government ended up increasing fat calorie consumption per person. This is just one example of our misinformed government promoting completely ineffective, and somewhat ironic, measures. The Onion, a satirical new source, went as far as to say the most effective way the government could reduce obesity is by changing the definition of obesity so it would include less Americans. 
There is no need for our government to try to predict the scientific course of obesity and pass legislation that will still be current and applicable ten years from now.
            Government regulation of our diets would also be taking away fundamental freedoms that are granted to us. One of these “is the right to choose what we put on our plates and in our goblets…,” says Manson, “but anti-food extremists would gladly take away that freedom and mandate our diet in order to save us from ourselves. It is time for zealous anti-food advocates to understand that it is not the federal government’s job to save us from ourselves by making our choices for us.” A society where the government makes personal choices for us takes away some of one of our most basic freedoms: the freedom of choice. Also, as has been the case in the past, many Americans will still eat whatever they want to eat, not what the government tells them to. For example, take New York City’s 2008 law requiring restaurant chains to post calorie counts on their menus.
Researchers at New York University studied the effects of this law, and were unable to detect any sort of change in calories purchased per customer after the law was put into effect. No matter how much regulation the government tries to put into effect, the American public will always be able to find loopholes around it.
            Supporters of government regulation to confront obesity use two main arguments to defend their stance. The first is that America is overweight and obesity is a problem that needs to be confronted as efficiently and effectively as possible, which is through the government. While America is undeniably overweight, government regulation of our diets isn’t the most efficient solution. As was referenced earlier, there is neither one cause nor one solution to obesity. In the words of US News’ Michael Marlow: “instead of wasting resources on inadequate solutions, consumers should return to the market for the innovative solutions, like healthy foods, gyms, and nutrition centers.” Although using the government may seem like the easiest way to reach the American public, it would provide a very inefficient, limited solution because of the lack of individual flexibility the law would have.
Second, government regulation supporters argue that the government has many more resources to combat obesity than private organizations and therefore are best suited to play this role. However, also as was revealed earlier, the science behind obesity is progressing at a rate that the government won’t be able to keep up with. Though they certainly would have much greater budget flexibility and publicity, the government simply would not be able to keep with the advancements of private organizations. By the time laws would finally be passed, science will have transformed so much that parts of the law would not longer be accurate. Private organizations are the ones doing this research, and therefore have more credibility to promote anti-obesity measures. But in the end, it all comes down to individuals being conscious about their weights.
            The government should absolutely not regulate our diets to combat the growing problem of American obesity. Simple laws cannot even come close to addressing all the contributors to obesity. The causes are much too complex and vast to ever do this. The government is also, unfortunately, somewhat uneducated and doesn’t have the resources that private organizations and scientists have to pass effective legislation. Obesity science is constantly evolving, and passed laws can’t evolve in the same way. Lastly, regulating our diet takes away the basic freedom of choice that we were granted by our founding fathers. It’s simply not right for the government to take this freedom away. Obese or not, the government’s influence should not be visible in our meals.
The correct, and only, way to solve obesity is through healthy choices made by each individual citizen.