Take Up the Thin Man’s Burden, Says Public Health Community

The Institute of Medicine (IOM), a group that advises the federal government on medical and public health issues, released a report today outlining its recommended strategies to reduce the obesity rate. And while it had nice things to say about increasing physical activity, the meat of the report was unfortunately a declaration of war on consumer choices. The report called for draconian regulations on food marketing, demonstrably ineffective soda taxes, discredited “food desert” subsidies, questionable restaurant zoning bans, and meddlesome menu item regulations. Given that this is the same organization that called for the Food and Drug Administration to strike salt from the list of ingredients Generally Recognized As Safe, we can’t say we’re shocked.

And with an ear to activists’ new crusade to diminish the role of personal choice by concocting the notion of narcotic-esque “food addiction,” Reuters reports that the IOM declared that “people cannot truly exercise ‘personal choice’ because their options are severely limited.” Of course, as evidence on expanding access to healthy foods shows, you can lead people to healthy food, but you can’t make them eat it. It’s up to them to make good choices.

As for the other policies that IOM proposes, the evidence for the soda tax projects everything from mere failure to possible counter-productivity. (Perhaps soda is merely the thin end of the centrally planned diet wedge.) Marketing regulations didn’t help Quebec or Sweden buck the trend of expanding waistlines. And restaurant zoning bans are based on a false premise.

When it comes to children’s menu item regulation, it’s probably not even necessary as both chain and quick-service restaurants have responded to consumer demand for healthier products for their kids. Not to mention that parents can and should exercise appropriate veto power over what their kids eat. (What a concept.)

But the IOM didn’t pass up the opportunity to bash adults’ choices either. The “broccoli mandate” might be a thing of legal hypotheticals for now, but the IOM called for the creation of “strong nutritional standards” and ensuring that foods that meet them “are available in all places frequented by the public.” Does that mean movie theaters must serve carrot sticks—even if nobody buys them?

Of course, the report only suggests that the recommendations hold the force of law in government procurement. But we heard similar things recently said about “voluntary” advertising guidelines. True to form, the IOM now calls for those guidelines to be made mandatory if there aren’t enough volunteers. How far off can a national menu czar be? Let’s hope it isn’t Cass Sunstein.

Fundamentally, the IOM panel and its supporters in “public health” think that Americans are lemmings incapable of exercising restraint. (Were it 1899, they might have said we were “half devil and half child.”) Treating Americans as children or “McVictims” is only a recipe for fat-fighting failure.

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