The Nanny State, Rebranded?

nannybloombergadOur advertisements mocking New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg from last year continue to prove an annoyance to the diet police, as evidenced by a commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Two writers cite our little bit of humorous mischief-making as evidence that the “public health” community needs to rebrand its “interventions” in our diets and lives toward a “savvy state” rather than the meddlesome nanny state.

Of course, the idea of convincing people to take responsibility for their own lives and decisions is foreign to the “public health” community, and these writers are no exception. Rather than making the government “savvy” by showing it its limits, the commentators argue that by developing limiting principles for their regulation campaigns, government regulators can improve their public opinion position.

Setting a limiting principle would be a wild departure from current practice, even if none of the demanded regulations were to change. (The commentators seem quite fond of Bloomberg’s soda ban, rejected by about 70 percent of Americans in recent polling.) Last year, RAND Corporation authors meditated on bringing about alcohol control-modeled policies like buffet bans, ABC-style licensing of restaurants, and putting concession stands out to pasture. Activist researchers trying to make names for themselves (and sell books) call ingredients that have been safely consumed for over 10,000 years “poison.” The latest drive, namely declaring cookies “addictive” as if they were lines of cocaine, is the epitome of the limitless drive to control all choice in dining.

In other ways, however, the JAMA commentary is more of the tired same. In a chart suggesting new “framing” for the “savvy state,” the authors repeat the canard that food choices are a kind of “industrial pollution.” And the “frame” for food taxes—opposed by Americans by roughly two-to-one margins in recent polling—reads like activist boilerplate. (Separately, here’s a fun fact: The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, which leads the charge for soda taxes and wrote that boilerplate, is largely funded by a wine magnate.)

Far from a new approach to a “savvy state,” the JAMA commentary suggests putting lipstick on the food-activist pig. If we are going to effectively address obesity, we need something different, like an emphasis on personal responsibility.

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