Obesity: Political Hot Potato For 2004

Obesity ranks “without question” as the biggest food story of 2003, according to America’s food editors. Harvard researchers declared obesity the biggest health story of the past year. And now MSNBC political commentator Howard Mortman writes: “The biggest political battles of 2004 might be fought in the most unlikely of places — at the dinner table.”

Mortman notes that 2003 saw a serious presidential candidate endorse menu labeling legislation and the mayor of Oakland back Twinkie taxes. Want more silliness? In 2003, a lawyer sued to prevent the sale of Oreo cookies to children. Texas schoolchildren were ordered to stop sharing treats with their friends. And New Zealand’s Ministry of Health proposed a minimum purchase age for buying “junk food.”

“Watch out for assault on your liberties” in 2004, Mortman warns. He predicts that future elections may “become a choice over which politician food cop should be the one to decide what we put in our mouths.” Already this year the American Association of Pediatrics came out with an anti-soda policy, and John “Sue the Bastards” Banzhaf announced that he would release a “model complaint” for trial lawyers to use in suing food companies.

What else is on the food cops’ agenda for 2004? This should give you a flavor: On Friday the food puritans at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (along with Banzhaf) warned Ben and Jerry’s that putting nutrition information online wasn’t enough, and that lawsuits were on way if they failed to post health stats on their stores’ menu boards too. As Mortman points out, our national obsession has swung from “Carrie Nation to Calorie Nation.”

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