Should the government regulate sugar so that Americans consume less of it? Does Jay Leno need to eat more fruits and vegetables? According to the calorie nannies, both are good ideas – regardless of whether or not we the people – or Leno – want the government dictating our diet.
Let’s start with sugar. Laura Schmidt, a coauthor of a “groundbreaking” discovery that too much sugar is bad for the body, yesterday posted an opinion piece on CNN.com advocating for a government crackdown on nature’s sweetener, informing consumers of its harm, regulating it just like alcohol, and using taxes and age limits to regulate behavior:
[W]e need to take what we know about protecting societies from the health harms of alcohol and apply it to sugar.
What doesn’t work is all-out prohibition — that’s very old-school and often creates more problems than it solves.
What does work are gentle “supply side” controls, such as taxing products, setting age limits and promoting healthier versions of the product — like making it cheaper for a person to drink light beer rather than schnapps.
Of course, there is no shortage of information on the health effects of sugar. A simple Google search on the topic will yield over 5.2 million results. Yet Schmidt is calling for the government to “educate” people on what foods and drinks people should be eating. She fails to mention that the government has been publishing dietary guidelines for 20 years now, but according the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity has been on the rise the entire time. Now “nanny staters” like Schmidt are calling for more government action, including, taxing soda and punishing companies like McDonald’s for marketing to the youth.
But to Schmidt’s point, will higher-priced sugar lead to less consumption? If this logic held, America would already be healthier. Here’s why: The price of sugar is artificially high thanks to federal sugar subsidies and other regulations that, yet Americans still have a sweet tooth. That’s because people like to eat candy and cupcakes – and drinking Coca-Cola and Pepsi, too – and they should be free to do so.
So where does Jay Leno fit in? This week, First Lady Michelle Obama appeared on The Tonight Show lecturing the comedian about not getting the fruits and vegetables he needs. And while there’s no harm in calling attention to the importance of eating healthy, there’s a big difference between educating and regulating. And when government sees fit to enact laws that limit our freedoms, that’s a step too far.
Ryan McNulty is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm