A Red Tape Wonderland

Over the years we’ve identified a growing array of groups that attempt to restrict your food and beverage choices to promote their political or financial agendas. These days the anti-free market do-goodnicks at the American Public Health Association (APHA) are at the top of the list. APHA recently endorsed a bevy of policy proposals aimed at placing Americans’ food choices into a red-tape wonderland.

The APHA’s once-benign group of doctors, nurses, and social workers has taken a decidedly political turn toward the diet dictators. At this year’s annual meeting, the group’s Socialist Caucus (yes, APHA has an entire “caucus” of socialists) sponsored or endorsed hundreds of presentations, including one with the surprisingly candid title: “Controlling What We Eat.”

APHA’s many policy proposals included calls for “fat taxes,” food marketing restrictions, and mandatory nutritional information plastered on restaurant menus. As we’ve discussed before, these proposals are driven by ideology, rather than public health. To get a sense of the scope of these ideas, click here for more information on fat taxes, here for a discussion on food marketing, and here for information on mandatory menu labeling.

Given the APHA’s now-obvious political bent, it’s no surprise that many of their policy prognostications stand in direct opposition to recently published scientific evidence. What follows are excerpts from the APHA’s most obnoxious policy statements as well as rebuttals from recent peer-reviewed journals — all published in the months before APHA announced its positions:

The APHA therefore … encourages the local, state, federal and tribal governments to develop policy for a variety of funding strategies to support the progress in alignment with the guidelines including increasing the price of and decreasing the availability of foods of low nutritional quality.” Better put, the APHA is calling for a “fat tax” on snacks, soda, and other foods. But an economic analysis of food regulations published in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found:

Although there is some evidence that excess consumption of [some] foods results in weight gain, there is no evidence that a tax on these products would improve health and/or positively impact obesity rates. Given the array of choices available to consumers, narrowly defined taxes and subsidies may have limited effect on improving health or reducing obesity due to the availability of substitute foods. For example, taxes on soft drinks may reduce soda consumption but increase the consumption of other beverages high in sugar and calories. Even a “fat tax” may not have the intended effect if consumers switch from high-fat to high-sugar products.

The APHA therefore … Urges the development of new policies and enforcement of current laws banning advertising messages that provide misinformation, and those aimed at increasing the consumption and purchase of foods of poor nutritional value by children.” This proposal comes only a few months after Imperial College School of Medicine Professor David Aston found that food marketing to children has no discernable impact on their diet. Citing numerous other studies on the topic, Aston wrote in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine:

Despite media claims to the contrary, there is no good evidence that advertising has a substantial influence on children’s food consumption and, consequently, no reason to believe that a complete ban on advertising would have any useful impact on childhood obesity rates.

APHA urges: Federal, state or local policies to require fast-food and other chain restaurants (smaller, neighborhood restaurants could be exempt) to provide consumers with nutrition information.” In addition to the lawsuit-ready liability created by labeled menus, the American Journal of Preventative Medicine article found that menu labeling was totally ineffective at improving people’s diets:

A recent laboratory study of food intake among normal-weight women found that explaining the concept of energy density and providing nutrition information on labels during meals had no impact on energy intake. Similarly, a controlled experiment in a restaurant setting in England found that provision of nutrition information had no effect on overall energy and fat intake. Although consumers may have full knowledge of the health content of their [restaurant] meals, because they may lack information of how the health content is translated into actual health, consumers may still not make optimal food choices.

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