Obesity is the Government’s Business

NPR has an excellent series of debates on various topics called Intelligence Squared (U.S). On February 10th, the question was “Is Obesity the Government’s Business?“. Listen to the debate (or read the transcript), and then come back here.

Back? OK.

The proponents make the excellent point that government funding for basic research has contributed much to our knowledge of human health, and that public health initiatives have virtually eradicated some diseases and contributed to an increase in lifespan and decrease in mortality. They argue that it is government’s singular power that gives it the responsibility to attempt to remedy obesity. I would go further and claim that it is the government’s singular power that gives it the responsibility to understand the potential consequences before acting. And that it is because it acted that we are debating the question today.

The Federal government gave us the Interstate Highway System, home loan subsidies, mortgage tax deductions, rapid depreciation of commercial property, and so white flight, public schools segregated by real estate, driving to the mall and everywhere else, two-hour commutes, and a sedentary life.

The Federal government gave us corn and other agricultural subsidies, sugar tariffs, amplification of panic over weight, a focus on fat and cholesterol as the cause of heart disease, and a regulatory regime that equates a glass of juice with a whole apple and a pizza with a tomato.

So, yes, obesity is the government’s business. Beyond that, it’s the government’s fault. Mistakes are magnified by the government’s singular power. The bully pulpit has consequences. Are we so sure they must act now? If so, would action not entail putting one’s own house in order first?