K. Lloyd Billingsley - Contributor
[Courtesty of Pacific Research
Billingsley is Editorial Director for the Pacific
Research Institute and has been widely published on topics
including on popular culture, defense policy, education reform,
and many other current policy issues. [go to Billingsley index]
Fatso, Part Trois: The Epidemic
Lloyd Billingsley] 4/22/05
California’s ruling class
has determined that the state’s residents are too fat and
it wants to use the legislative process to slim them down. This
has happened before but this time we are really in trouble, according
to Dr. Richard Jackson, the state’s public health officer.
“I’ve seen an absolute tipping point in public awareness
of the epidemic,” he told reporters.
According to some reports, residents of California gained 180,000
tons during the past decade, which works out to 11 pounds each.
How this bloat was quantified remains unclear, like the charge
that flab and inactivity will cost California $28 billion this
year. True or not, lawmakers are taking aim.
Some want to hike
taxes on cigarettes by $1 a pack and use the money for programs
related to nutrition and exercise. Others
want the food sold in schools to meet nutrition standards. State
education superintendent Jack O’Connell believes this will
increase student achievement. Lawmakers also want to ban the
sales of sodas in high schools – except for extra-curricular
activities. And they don’t like junk-food advertising.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger,
a former bodybuilder, reportedly wants to lead the charge against
lard. Jay Leno joked that this
was part of the governor’s “No Child Left with a
Big Behind Act.” The governor wants to set aside $6 million
in next year’s budget to fight obesity. But even some Democrats
are dubious that any of the various measures will help people,
particularly students, make wise choices about food.
Eating, unlike smoking, is not an optional activity, and people
generally eat what they want. Californians have at their disposal
vast knowledge about nutrition. How they use that knowledge is
up to them. They can also choose whether to exercise or sit around
playing video games.
is the cornerstone of a free and civil society. Human beings
are independent moral agents with the ability
to think and to choose. But that concept is missing from the
medical model of human behavior, evident in Dr. Jackson’s
comment, which portrays Californians as helpless victims of an “epidemic” sweeping
the state like influenza. To treat people this way is to dehumanize
them, and to pretend that government can solve obesity takes
the onus off the individual. Indeed, it encourages them to blame
Research Institute 2002 “Ipso
Fatso, Part Deux” column dealt with
people suing deep-pockets fast-food chains for making them fat.
In 1999, when we first took up this theme, California’s
department of health had issued a report criticizing the eating
habits of Californians. We noted then the irony of a bloated
state, freighted with waste and bureaucratic redundancy, lecturing
Californians about food.
The state remains overweight. Many legislators want to expand
the beltline with universal pre-school, a dubious program that
will require massive spending and hiring. Others push for government
health care on a grand scale. These are the political equivalent
of an all-you-can-eat restaurant.
When state government actually gets smaller, leaner, and more
efficient, then Californians might take obesity edicts more seriously.
And as in every area of public policy, only those proposals that
recognize the importance of personal responsibility have any
chance of helping us trim the fat. CRO
2005 Pacific Research Institute