We’re not going to wade into the general healthcare kerfuffle that’s dominating the news. But it’s worth noting that, since President Obama has signed the 2,000 page bill, menu labeling is now the law of the land. As we (and the Los Angeles Times) recounted last month, menu-labeling studies after the passage of New York City’s law have been, at best, a mixed bag of results. There’s no compelling evidence that labeling calorie counts and fat grams on restaurant menus and menu boards is having a positive effect on obesity.
So we have to ask: What if it doesn’t work?
To begin with, anti-obesity crusaders will start looking for the next (and the next, and the next) heavy-handed policy. If national menu labeling mandates can be passed under the name of “healthcare,” a whole lot of supposedly anti-obesity initiatives could see the light of legislation. The feds could even keep looking to the Big Apple for ideas, and start a nationwide gross-out advertising campaign against soft drinks.
And you can bet former New York City Health Commissioner (and current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention head) Thomas Frieden is already looking for ways to get his finger in the pie. For one, he’s called for a national soda tax. While that’s standard food-cop fare, the creative impulse of anti-obesity crusaders could bring us far more wacky policies.
Perhaps overweight people will be banned from eating out (or ordering anything but a salad). Kids might start receiving classroom grades based on their weight. (If they fail, off to fat camp they go!) You could owe the IRS an income tax and a flab tax. Salt and sugar shakers may be banned from restaurant tables. And cookies and hamburgers might be for “adults only”—if they’re not considered “controlled substances,” that is.
The possibilities are endless. Our take on “Soup Nazis” and restaurant weigh-ins is looking quite modest.
When ideas that nutty get traction, what’s not on the table?