Waving the White Flag on Personal Responsibility?

USA Today editorializes this morning that we’re “hooked on junk food,” citing the recent Scripps Research Institute study claiming that high-fat, high-sugar foods are—literally—addictive like crack cocaine. The newspaper also notes the work of former FDA Commissioner David Kessler, who thinks that food makers create irresistible—essentially, addictive—products.  Why is this important? The trend for changes in food hasn’t yet reached the same “critical mass” that anti-smoking efforts did, the paper notes, but making the link between food and addiction is a key component to generating the wide-ranging social attitude shift that Kessler and other anti-food activists want.

As we wrote on Monday, the concept that junk food is “addictive” like hard drugs has serious flaws and troubling implications. For one, Americans already have a name for the concept of wanting food: hunger. Foods people enjoy, like pizza, potato chips, or hamburgers, simply “taste good.” If we weren't “addicted” to food, we'd all starve to death. 

Further, the comparison of food to smoking is ludicrous to the point of discrediting those who advance such a comparison. For one, we need food to live, but we don’t need tobacco. And obesity is ultimately a matter of numbers—calories “in” and calories “out.” And so on. (The list is long.)

That said, we agree that there is a “critical mass” approaching, but the tipping point is the erosion of personal responsibility. Public health and anti-obesity activists reject the belief that individuals should have ultimate say in what they eat.

It’s an increasingly pervasive philosophy. But when has government bureaucracy created population-wide weight loss? After the government’s “anti-fat” national dietary guidelines, people ate more carbohydrates—and gained weight. Even unapologetic food cop Kelly Brownell admits that anti-obesity health campaigns have failed, telling National Journal writer Neil Munro last month, “People have been working for 40 years on treatments. None of these things have worked.” Munro also notes:

The XXXL-sized failure by government-funded public health professionals is demonstrated by the federal Healthy People 2010 education program, which in 2000 set a goal of reducing the obesity rate from 30 percent to 15 percent by this year. The rate has since stretched, however, to 33.8 percent of the adult population.

Why don’t we try a Plan B? Instead of listening to public health activists who think that more and more government control is the way to go, let’s tell them to take a hike. Some exercise would certainly be good for their health. And maybe we can shrink America’s waistlines without inflating the size of government.

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