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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: The White House Fat Police

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The White House Fat Police

(HT Drudge Report) First Lady Michelle Obama is on a crusade to end childhood obesity with the aid of the Task Force on Childhood Obesity created by Presidential Memorandum on February 10, 2010 to help her with this task.  Her allies include the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  As reported by Peter Maer of CBSNEWS in "White House: Stop Marketing Unhealthy Foods to Kids" the First Lady said,
We have a roadmap for implementing our plan across our government and across the country...No one gets off the hook on this one from governments to schools, corporations to non-profits all the way down to families sitting around their dinner table.
This sounds a little intrusive, but the administration insists that they will use the bully pulpit and not legislation.  Well, at least they will not start with legislation.  But Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz said,
A regulatory approach is certainly not where we want to start...You start by pushing self-regulation, by pushing your bully pulpit; sometimes shaming companies that don't do enough.
Why use legislation when the threat of legislation is enough?  Maer reports some changes the Task Force will or might pursue through extortion or legislative force. 

  • The FTC will continue hearings to determine whether firms have honored past commitments and whether they can make them do more. 

  • The advisory panel will push for better food content labeling on products and vending machines. 

  • Labeling could be pushed to the front of packages. 

  • Restaurants should re-evaluate portion sizes, improve kid's menus, and list more healthy food choices. 

  • State and local governments could tax unhealthy foods. 

  • Schools should promote healthier food in cafeterias like swapping the deep fryers for salad bars. 

  • Schools should have more time devoted to physical activities. 

The role of the federal government is to secure our inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  The Obama administration's efforts are not new, it is only advancing a long standing federal intrusion into the nation's kitchens and it is unwarranted, redundant and therefore unnecessarily costly. When the government acts as the watchdog of the American waistline it is impinging on our right to liberty, the freedom from outside compulsion or coercion.  The government assumes that its citizens' objective is longevity, not life.  The government estimates the cost of treating obesity related ailments at $150 billion per year.  Where is the cost benefit analysis?  Where is the measurement of obesity related pleasures?  I know that I get at least $10 of more pleasure from a good doughnut than a small selection of fresh fruit.  If I am a typical consumer and eat one doughnut per month multiplied by 300 million consumers, that alone amounts to $36 billion of pleasure.  Longevity and health are simply not the only objectives that we pursue.  Gay men don't live as long as straight men but our nation almost unanimously wants the government out of bedrooms.  If consumers were only interested in health and longevity, nobody would ride a motorcycle, get a tattoo, or attend a soccer game in Europe! 

The information that the government provides is redundant.  If I want advice about my weight I consult my mirror, scale and wife.  I pay my doctor to tell me of life style health issues including weight.  Even television has a show designed specifically to trim our waistlines, "The Biggest Loser."  My options are much the same with my children.  

The government intrusion into the food manufacturing industry is also unnecessary because the companies operate in a competitive environment.  They will provide nutritional information about their food without a government mandate as the market dictates.  Many commercials tout the health benefits of food products.  Some consumers prefer taste or ease of preparation to health.  When markets help consumers' realize their desires they fulfill the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness.          

In times of huge federal deficits, one might note that while not one bit of these measures is the federal government's business, every bit costs taxpayers. 


  1. Kristina H.27/5/10 8:38 AM

    As a libertarian, I believe that the government should interfere as little as possible with most things, however the very idea of this legislation takes government interference to a whole new level. Although it is one thing to use command and control policy to regulate polution, or tax american goods (although causing deadweightloss), it is a whole different subject to begin regulating the size (and shape) that Americans should be and ultimately how they eat. The way that the legislation will most likely function is through something like a sin tax, that is currently placed on things like cigarettes, but instead it will be placed on things such as soda, chips, candy or fastfood that is unhealthy in large quantities. All americans would be affected by this tax, not just americans suffering from a potential health or weight issue as that would probably result in supreme court cases for discrimination and equality of people of all sizes. As always, only time will tell.

  2. Kristina H.27/5/10 8:43 AM

    In addition to my previous comment this goes back to the problem of education in American school systems. Rather than devoting more time for education or the pursuit of the arts inside of school time, the article suggests that future legislation may suggest more time be devoted to physical fitness. I regard this as highly unnecessary and much less beneficial to the whole of America than academic or arts lessons. Obama has recently expressed concern to push the sciences more heavily on students in hopes of developing the next great american scientist from this generation. Both things cannot happen unless we are to extend the school days even more. American school systems must think logically and prioritize. Honestly the best thing to do if you want your child to have a sensible education and stay fit is to enroll them in private school and sign them up for after school soccer and ditch the public school system entirely.

  3. We all know that Americans are very unhealthy. We are constantly surrounded by food and each year more technology comes out to make our lives easier. And by easier I mean getting rid of any type of physical activity. More kids are moving away from sports and going towards video games. I agree that we should focus on education first, but Im not saying what Michelle Obama has planned is a bad idea. Getting kids to start eating healthier and enjoying physical activities might be what this country needs.