A Battle Cry Against the Wrong Enemy

“Call it Bloomberg’s War,” orders the Buffalo News. “It’s all those liquid sugar bombs Americans have been consuming,” proclaims the News Tribune.

What has prompted such unreasonable hyperbole? The humble soft drink, which has more and more members of the chattering classes engaging in a “crusade” to attack it. Never mind that there is no single cause of obesity: That won’t stop activists from making the comparison of brown liquids to green leaves (or white powders).

Although newspaper editorial boards know how to sound the alarm with war-themed rhetoric, most miss the point. Under the guise of “public health,” government intrudes on consumer freedom, which inevitably leads to a backlash. This population-level policymaking makes for great talking points by politicians and self-proclaimed warriors for good, but accomplishes little.

Yet the Buffalo News unfortunately sees no other way:

It’s a crusade, and one that needs to be taken on by someone with influence. It might be better if that someone weren’t a government official, but the fact is that few others are stepping up to meet what is already a crisis.

The mere existence of a bottle of soda or other sweetened drink—just like any other food or beverage—doesn’t add to anyone’s waistline. Obesity comes down to behaviors, including the small choices that people make.  The 21st century prohibitionists fail to understand that.

If we’re going to be at war with something, we need to have a better enemy. The true culprit is the lack of personal responsibility. And instead of tackling that problem, government has decided to step in and act as if it can be responsible for every individual. Try as they might, Bloomberg and others like him can’t even be good nannies—government coercion doesn’t result in a lesson learned.

If government is allowed to decide what “bad” food is, we can predict it will turn into an endless list. The News Tribune touts studies on diet soda versus regular soda— it must have missed the latest moving of goalposts by food nannies on that front.

So tone down the rhetoric. It doesn’t help and picks out the wrong problem. If we want to improve health, we need to help people be mindful of the food they’re eating and the small choices that they’re making for themselves and their families.

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