Why government should regulate food like tobacco and alcohol
If you thought Mayor Bloomberg’s soda and trans-fat bans were over-the-top, better hope Deborah A. Cohen doesn’t get her way. The RAND scientist and author of the new book “A Big Fat Crisis,” thinks that the nannying doesn’t go far enough — that the desperate obesity epidemic requires desperate measures.
If Cohen had her way, we’d say sayonara to office vending machines; servers would have to undergo training on the cancer risks of hot dogs; and we would tax junk food the same way we do cigarettes. The government would regulate cronut shops like it does liquor stores and the surgeon general would plaster candy bars with graphic health warnings.
“How many mothers would pack children’s lunch bags with bologna sandwiches if the package had a symbol indicating that frequent consumption of bologna is associated with an increased risk of cancer?” she writes.
When, when, when will this madness end?
Since “it is unlikely that human nature is going to change anytime soon,” Cohen believes that “government actions will be necessary to stop obesity and related chronic diseases.”
Basing her suggestions on how our country has handled alcohol and tobacco use, Cohen offers a “more balanced environment where individuals can automatically make healthy decisions.”
- A standardization of portion sizes. Like we do with alcohol (a glass of wine is always 5 ounces, for example), there should be “portions uniform across all food establishments” and all food “must be available in single portions.”
- A revamp of grocery stores. They’d be much smaller and have shorter hours of operation, which would “require people to make a greater effort to plan their shopping and could reduce the frequency of impulse shopping.”
- To further reduce impulsivity, checkout candy displays would be relocated to lower-traffic mid-store aisles.
- Getting rid of doughnuts shops. Like we do with liquor stores, Cohen advocates for reducing the per-capita number of stores that sell junk food. “Why not do the same to limit the number of outlets that primarily sell food that is associated with chronic diseases, like doughnut shops, candy stores and ice-cream parlors? How many of those do we really need?” she writes. In fact, she believes that candy sales should be banned at all non-food places, like gas stations, retail stores and pharmacies.
- A tax on junk food. Taking a cue from tobacco and booze taxes, “similarly, increasing the price of foods most strongly associated with the risk of obesity and other chronic diseases could lead to reductions in consumption,” she says. Plus, the money levied could go to defraying health-care costs associated with obesity.
- A warning label on junk food. “We could create symbols that let consumers know which foods increase the risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases,” she writes. She imagines them “vivid, graphic” and “easily visible right at the point of purchase.”
I've said it before and I'll say it again: We're all smokers now. Get used to it.