The Carrot and the Stick: 2009 Update

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation are co-hosting an obesity conference this week in Washington, called “Weight of the Nation.” With Big Apple food cop Thomas Frieden now in charge of the CDC, the event holds lots of promise for dietary scolding. In case you missed yesterday’s action, the conference began with a sensationalistic press conference in which the CDC released a report estimating that obesity costs $147 billion a year.
As we told the media:

It’s no surprise that the CDC released this report in the midst of the health care debate. Suggesting that obesity ‘costs’ Americans is a clear illustration of where the so-called public healthcare option will lead us. As soon as public health activists decide a lifestyle choice ‘costs’ taxpayers, the government will target it for regulation.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Frieden spoke yesterday in favor of sugared drink taxes, claiming that a 10% tax could reduce soda consumption by 7.8%. The message is both clear and dangerous: Taxes should be used to get people to eat and drink what the government (or the nearest food activist) wants.
Suspecting that Frieden is simply up to the same old food-police tricks, we decided to go to the conference and take a look for ourselves. And thankfully, some presenters aren’t merely parroting the party line of “government knows best.” Some speakers highlighted the carrot, not the stick.
One group of presenters discussed the feasibility of encouraging students to walk and bike to school, and implementing joint-use agreements of school recreational facilities. Others promoted the successes of expanded community gardens and better access to healthy foods in poor urban areas.
Command-and-control obesity warriors like Frieden act as if it’s their way or the highway. Fortunately, though, there are still researchers who are looking at positive ways to burn calories instead of just burning our dessert menus.

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