You may have noticed over the last couple of years that menus at fast food chains are now required to display calorie content. A number of vending machines likewise cheerfully detail the same information, to forewarn you against the perils of eating Doritos.
What’s so interesting about this development is that it implies fat people don’t actually realize that they’re fat. Or, perhaps, they have no idea how they became fat. Uncle Sam has intervened on their behalf to educate them. Educate them skinny.
Similar governmental campaigns are underway against obesity elsewhere. New York and Philadelphia have outlawed trans fat, because it is so horrendously bad for you. (They have not banned tobacco, which is also poisonous. But keeping it legal makes sense if you follow through with the logic. If our goal is to make people skinny, the last thing you want to do is deprive chain smokers of cigarettes.)
Here’s an interesting hypothesis: I think overweight people already know they’re obese. And they probably even know the difference between a Big Mac and steamed vegetables. I’m not sure it’s within the government’s ability to make people slender and willowy (shy of wrecking our economy and instituting low-carb breadlines).
Fat people already know they’re fat. How could they not? Our society is horrendously cruel to the obese. In television, film and literature “fat” is used as a signal of laziness. Overweight people statistically earn less than their twiggy contemporaries. I know people who instinctively resent overweight folks simply for being overweight. As if being lithe and attractive is some implicit aspect of John Locke’s social contract, and chubby people have willfully broken their duty to society.
We can probably all agree on this point, that fat people don’t need to be informed about their predicament. So let’s move on to the role of government assistance in creating washboard tummies.
Obligatory calorie labeling is reasonably benign, but ultimately pointless. If someone honestly doesn’t realize that a double quarter pounder with cheese is more likely to perpetuate their obesity than eating a bag of carrots, then they’re probably not observant enough to notice mandated calorie displays. Such a person is not awaiting a federally-induced epiphany.
What about more heavy-handed approaches? Cigarettes and excessive alcohol are bad for you, so we make a point of taxing them to “nudge” people away from poor health decisions. Yet nicotine addiction and alcohol abuse persist. Research shows that increased taxes on cigarettes and alcohol minimally influences moderate users, but not heavy drinkers and smokers (the ones who ostensibly need help).
Heavy smokers and drinkers do not alter their habits, they simply spend more of their income on the taxes punishing their bad decisions. Thus higher cigarette taxes don’t trick chain smokers into a healthy lifestyle, it just makes them poor. Good job.
The above is called “government paternalism,” and it’s predicated on the notion that you are not an adult capable of making decisions for yourself. People are idiots, so the government needs to watch over them by doing things like ordering motorcyclists to wear helmets.
The counter school of thought is called “personal responsibility.”
A major problem with paternalism is that relying on the government to make up for human shortcomings would require a government not staffed by shortcoming humans. Until we elect a Google Algorithm to Congress, legislators are subject to the same foibles we are. Nobody becomes Mr. Spock simply by virtue of a federal payroll.
That may sound reducto absurdum, but the government is already making people obese. Right now. We give billions of tax payers’ dollars in subsidies to corn farmers every year. This makes corn artificially cheap. Since corn is ludicrously inexpensive, manufacturers use it constantly, and as a result high fructose corn syrup is in everything from soda to salad dressing. High fructose corn syrup, incidentally, contributes to obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Obligatory calorie displays might seem like an odd thing to pick a fight over. But what would better promote public health? Obligatory calorie displays on vending machines, or gutting corn subsidies to staunch the tidal wave of high fructose corn syrup in our diets?
If this post made you laugh or think, kindly “like” MightyHeaton.com’s Facebook page: