Filed Under: Big Fat Lies Food Police

Fighting the Last Obesity War

BBQ chicken wingsThere’s an old saying about military generals: They plan to “fight the last war” rather than addressing new and evolving threats. This is perhaps best exemplified by World War II France’s Maginot Line, a series of World War I-style forts and obstacles the German invaders simply drove around.

What does military history have to do with food freedom?  Simply this: Many people trying to defend consumer choice on food issues are making the same mistake that the French generals made. Our Executive Director, writing in Forbes, shows us how we can avoid such an error:

There are two models for improving the healthfulness of food products. The first, taken by various food and beverage companies, is to create healthier choices and offer them to consumers. Activists want bans, taxes, and outlandish warnings to take choices away.

Food companies emphasize increasing consumer choices, like Coca-Cola did in its recent ad campaign. That used to be acceptable to activists; restaurant menu calorie labeling, the last activist campaign, relied on providing information in the hope that people would make more healthful choices.

But even before calorie labeling went national, there was evidence that it wouldn’t reduce obesity. The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, which standardized the Nutrition Facts label on supermarket food, did not prevent a considerable rise in obesity either. Calorie information was outweighed by enjoyment of food, and small choices that led to less physical activity in our lifestyles led to an expansion of waistlines.

Worse for activists, Americans agree with consumer choice. The Associated Press found that nearly 75 percent of Americans rejected New York-style portion controls and 59 percent of us want nothing to do with Kelly Brownell’s “Twinkie tax.”

So activists are now changing the battlefield. Rather than fighting to improve choices and options, they are striking against the very heart of food enjoyment. As our Executive Director warns:

They think we can’t make proper choices, and they have to make them for us. That is incompatible with the current philosophy of providing factual information so that people can make informed decisions.

There are three elements to this scheme. First, activists will use misappropriated concepts to declare food addictive like recreational drugs. Simultaneously, Brownell’s colleagues will use utterly farcical accusations of “prejudicial attitudes” to marginalize the rump consumer choice defense. The final element sees trial lawyers and bureaucrats using these two constructions to sue and regulate everything from lunchmeat to soda out of existence.

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