Today the White House released a comprehensive report about recommended tactics to fight childhood obesity. Some of the report is certainly worthwhile, like its efforts to tackle “food deserts” and promote physical activity. But other tactics strike us as coming from the Thomas Frieden school of thought. Frieden, you might remember, developed a command-and-control M.O. while serving as New York City's health chief. (He now runs the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)
As The Wall Street Journal reports, this new report calls for food companies to voluntarily reduce their marketing of certain foods to kids—and then threatens FCC action if they don’t comply. This notion of making something “voluntary” when it really isn’t gives us reason to be concerned about big government's overreach.
And as you might expect, the report addresses fat taxes. The theory (for those of you who have been hiding under a stalk of broccoli) is that when new taxes raise the price of foods that the government considers “bad” or “unhealthy,” consumption of these foods will decrease and obesity rates will decline. We’ve seen this theory widely touted during the last six months, as local and state legislatures from New York and California to Philadelphia and Baltimore, have considered taxing soft drinks in one form or another.
But today's report simply recommends that experts “analyze the effect of state and local sales taxes.” In other words, it’s noncommittal. This is good news (for now, at least), because the White House seems to recognize that there’s no proof taxing soft drinks (or any other food or beverage) will actually work. And that’s because … well, it won’t.
Which road will the White House take: the carrot or the stick? We’ll be watching closely.