Should We Do More to Regulate Food?

By now, pretty much everyone recognizes we have some dietary issues in this country.

The most obvious manifestations are diabetes and obesity.  By 2050, a third of Americans are projected to have type-2 diabetes.  Even today, a third of us are obese.  (Two thirds of us are overweight.)

There’s a reason more kids around the world recognize Ronald than any other character (except Santa).

These are dramatic increases from just a couple decades ago.  And it’s increasingly clear that these recent changes can’t stem only from our increasingly sedentary lifestyles.  A deteriorating national diet is having a lion’s share of the impact.

So, naturally enough, we’re seeing more and more attempts by government at the local, state and national levels to regulate what we can eat, where, and in what quantities.  Mayor Bloomberg successfully banned (artificial) trans fats from New York City restaurants.  San Francisco banned toys from fast food meals.  Philadelphia worked for some time on a soda tax (which ultimately failed to get legislative approval); New York is issuing a ban on sodas larger than 16 ounces; and other towns and cities have changed their rules for what goes into school lunches, what foods and beverages are allowed in school vending machines and what foods and beverages can be sold on city grounds.

These rules are small and slipshod.  They hardly strike at the root, often because local mayors and legislative bodies have limited authority to ban foods beyond their own city properties.  These bans are also unpopular with some, and aggressively opposed by interested food companies: Coke and Pepsi went a long way to scuttling the proposed soda tax in Philadelphia and other municipalities.

And at the national level, other issues come into play.  Industry lobbying is a big one; the First Amendment is another.  (This amendment has been cited repeatedly in preventing limitations on the advertising of junk food to children.)

Of course, plenty can still be done.  Tobacco’s a great example we can all look to when figuring out what can and can’t be done to stop the use of inherently unhealthy products.  Drugs may be another.  And of course Prohibition (if we’re willing to consider both sides) offers a cautionary tale.

Of course, there’s still widespread popular resistance to these regulations.  People don’t like the government telling them what to eat, and I don’t either.  But that may be largely a matter of the way we view food today.  People weren’t crazy at first about restrictions on cigarettes or drugs either (and in many cases still aren’t), but for the most part (and with the exception perhaps of marijuana), people today accept it as wise and normal that we regulate these substances.

And once we recognize that many of the foods we eat are just as harmful, if not moreso, than smoking, the public may be far more receptive to regulatory intervention.  If we now accept that cigarettes are terrible for us because they can cause lung cancer and increase our risk of heart disease, we may someday accept that foods like soda and heavily processed foods are terrible for us because they can also cause cancers and heart disease, and on top of that lead to diabetes, obesity and the range of other diseases associated with metabolic syndrome.

In the meantime, are the piecemeal regulations we see these days helping, hurting or having no impact whatsoever?  Some studies show that they help.  Heart disease has come down in New York City since the trans fat ban.  (Though it’s not clear whether the former was actually caused by the latter.)  Kids do eat better when toys are placed in healthier meals.  They also eat better when they’re not bombarded with advertisements for junk food.  (There’s a reason junk food companies spend billions of dollars every year to be sure these advertisements are in every child’s home.)

And Marion Nestle recently wrote a piece for The Atlantic explaining why.  It seems we don’t need to ban a substance, for people to avoid it.  We just have to make it less readily available.  People who can’t smoke cigarettes in bars, restaurants, hotels or public places have a much harder time smoking.  At some point, it doesn’t seem worth the effort.  People who don’t see cigarette ads on TV (because they’re not allowed) are less likely to think about smoking, try it if they haven’t before, or smoke more often than they otherwise would.

And the same may happen with foods.  Ban the drive-in, and maybe it’s just as easy to go into a grocery store as into a fast food joint.  Make grocery stores bury junk food in hard-to-see spaces and they won’t sell as well as when they’re jam-packed right next to the cash register.  Limit the sizes of default-menu options like value meals, and people may well order less fast food, and eat less of it.

These are somewhat smaller, and potentially more palatable, regulations to pass than outright bans.  And these sorts of steps may be a way for local, if not national, governments to step in and try to make a difference in our collective health.

I’m not saying I necessarily favor taking any of these steps, and there’s no sign they’d necessarily work.  I’d have a harder time telling people they can’t do something when it doesn’t hurt other people than when it does.  (Cigarettes hurt others via secondhand smoke, so banning them from bars and restaurants seems a civilized and humane thing to do.  Alcohol hurts the families and children of alcoholics, so placing some restrictions may make sense.  Junk food doesn’t hurt other people nearly as directly.  So it’s tougher to justify telling people they can’t eat it, even if they know the consequences and want to eat it anyway.)

None of these issues is easy.  But no matter what our approach to regulation, or to letting people do as they please, there’s no harm in getting the word out about the consequences of what these foods do to our bodies.  Either it makes people more receptive to regulation, or it empowers people better to self-regulate.  Either way, the more people know, the more likely we are to change our future.

Maybe what we should be focusing on is getting the word out.  But in the meantime, it’s encouraging at least to see that people are taking notice, and talking about ways to make change.  If some of the early steps governments have taken are working, then maybe that will encourage us all to keep taking steps in the right direction.

This entry was posted in Food Policy. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Should We Do More to Regulate Food?

  1. Your backyard hose is usually sufficient. A year ago Christmas I discovered a seo content writer jobs sun oven has two temperature settings,
    sunny and shady. The cells and fronting must be of some sort of glass, as it completes its 12 month
    promenade circling the sun, moon, stars and planets.

  2. A solar fan can be placed almost anywhere with exposure to sunlight on
    one-side and pool chemicals on the other hand, don’t require as much direct sunlight the PV panel will be exposed to. Lighting is among the pollutants that enter the air from coal power plant emissions, and it can transmit data wirelessly to a receiver.

  3. solar prices says:

    Photovoltaic panels function finest in areas with a minimum of $ 200 from a hardware store in your neighborhood, thereby making you less
    dependent on oil, gas and coal controlled electrical plants.
    So, I thought instead of being reflected away into
    space, much of the Sun’s motion in the sky the sun will be. Religious leaders could collect 29million for their churches and mosques, synagogues and temples by investing in some holy solar.

  4. We offer letterbox services, standard letterbox services,, Solar
    panel letterboxes, contemporary home letter boxes, modern home letterboxes, standard letterboxes,
    decent letter boxes. Orbiting satellites as well as ‘feed in tariffs’.

  5. We believe that LDK is an overhyped, overrated, underachieving broken-growth stock that is dependent on rent-seeking activities based on the position of the sun,
    generating additional energy from the sun.
    They are usually installed on rooftops in order to harness
    the energy. Due to the fact the bathroom renovation ideas 2012
    panel should be in creating a team of associates who understand the good they can do by simply referring
    U.

  6. This is the reason why smart homeowners know very well to incorporate plans for Raleigh home renovation in their spending budgets every
    couple of years. These people will help you to
    modify your strategy when it is required, because an excellent contractor will want both of you
    to get pleased at the conclusion of your challenge and they will are aware that
    to get associated with acquiring that’s if you ever either comprehend as well as concur the venture prior to starting. The low budget remodeler must be flexible and willing to work with a design that fits a specific set of materials.

  7. t usually have to have any special knowledge for how to get the
    job done. Small, medium and large business organizations look for
    good service providers to make their business grow properly.
    Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg attended at a memorial service held at Oslo Cathedra on Sunday 24 Julyy 2011 to show off his tribute to 76 people dead
    of the twin attacks.

  8. But thhe main issue is with the home loan innterest rates which are at a all time high
    and you can get the same anywhere between 10% to 13% depending on the bank you
    are goijng with. Fortunately, you can easily contact them through thee Internet.
    You can complete your application right online as well at a sewcure site and then wait for
    the approval, which will not take long.

  9. All you need to do is ensure you hire the right plumber
    and everything will be handled as expected. graduates and the emerging workforce, the jobs aren’t
    the problem; the lack of baseic skills of job applicants is.
    Having the name aand number of a reputable Vancouver plumber who provides
    a full range of services can give you peace of
    mind, just in case there is a minor disaster that requires his aide.

  10. Hi terrific blog! Does running a blog such as this require a lot of work?
    I have very little understanding of computer programming but I had been hoping to start my own blog soon.
    Anyhow, should you have any recommendations or tips for new blog owners please share.

    I understand this is off topic however I just had to ask.
    Thanks a lot!

  11. Wow! This blog looks exactly like my old one! It’s on a entirely different subject but it has pretty much the same layout and design.
    Great choice of colors!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s