The Sciences

Will Obesity Regulation Turn the U.S. Into a Police State?

Reality BaseBy Melissa LafskyJan 13, 2009 9:44 PM

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With the economy tanking, it's been easy to forget about that other little disaster lurking in America's wings: the obesity epidemic. But it's still raging on, popping up in places like Army recruitment offices and pediatric clinics at breakneck speed. Rather than let the problem run free and pray that it takes care of itself (a philosophy that worked oh so well for the economy) state and federal governments have been trying out various regulations aimed at curbing the rampant weight gain that's sweeping the nation. But is legislating how, where, and how much people eat a massive crimp in our civil liberties? Paul Hsieh at ABC News thinks so, and is tossing fire and brimstone at any and all food regulation lest it turn the U.S. into a fascist freedom-stomping regime:

Many American cities ban restaurants from selling foods with trans fats. Los Angeles has imposed a moratorium on new fast food restaurants in South L.A. Other California cities ban smoking in some private residences. California has outlawed after-school bake sales as part of a "zero tolerance" ban on selling sugar products on campus. New York Gov. David Paterson has proposed an 18 percent tax on sugary sodas and juice drinks, and state officials have not ruled out additional taxes on cheeseburgers and other foods deemed unhealthy. These ominous trends will only accelerate if the US adopts universal healthcare. Just as universal healthcare will further fuel the nanny state, the nanny state mind-set helps fuel the drive toward universal healthcare. Individuals aren't regarded as competent to decide how to manage their lives and their health. So the government provides "cradle to grave" coverage of their healthcare. Nanny state regulations and universal healthcare thus feed a vicious cycle of increasing government control over individuals. Both undermine individual responsibility and habituate citizens to ever-worsening erosions of their individual rights. Both promote dependence on government. Both undermine the virtues of independence and rationality. Both jeopardize the very foundations of a free society.

Sure, the idea of regulating what we eat can evoke plenty of scary Orwellian imagery. But as with everything in government, the questions "How much would we regulate?" and "In what way?" and "Would the benefits of regulation outweigh the gains?" are just as important as "Will it constrict rights?" In obesity's case, the alternative Hsieh and his fellow anti-regulators present is: Do nothing! Let the changes in modern lifestyle continue to drive the population into greater levels of abysmal health, further crushing our already foundering health care system. Whether we enact universal health care or not, the U.S. is already heading into a medical disaster zone that could buckle with or without regulation, and the epidemic is growing at pretty astonishing rates. Given the choice between trying to do something about it and not, we think we'd take the latter. Particularly if all it means is a higher price on a liter of Coke. Related: RB: Who’s the Fattest of Them All? Obesity Rates Rise in 37 States RB: Should Obesity Be Treated Like an Addiction? RB: Obesity May Be In Your Genes, But It Isn’t Your Destiny

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