Sunday, September 30, 2012

Should the government restrict super-sizing junk food?

There's a lot of competition for the most stupid Nanny State proposal.  But if forced to choose, plans to restrict serving sizes would have to take the cake.  They should be rejected outright.

Like all paternalistic attempts to change other people's lives, it is condescending and it is elitist.

And like all grand government initiatives to modify behaviour, it is highly unlikely to work and will almost certainly lead to many unintended consequences.

There's no surprise these proposals are targeted at fast foods.

After all, it is a well-known fact that it is impossible to get fat from expensive high-class food like foie gras and French cheeses.  No, the only way to gain weight is by eating fast food.

Deep down, the idea that the government should restrict how large your hamburger should be comes from people who believe that everyone else is not smart enough to run their own lives.

They target fast food outlets because they think the people who frequent them are incapable of eating in moderation.  It's deeply concerning that this kind of elitism pervades much of the public health community.

But let's assume they're right.  How could such a proposal possibly work?

Let's take pizza as a starting point.

Do we ban the family size?  Or should there be a limit on the number of pizzas you can order?  Should customers have to prove they're not eating the whole thing on their own?

It doesn't get any easier at McDonald's.

What if someone orders a Big Mac and chicken nuggets?  What if they come back for seconds?

Of course, almost no one in the country would do the majority of their eating in fast food restaurants.

If someone is obese, it's their entire lifestyle that's problematic, not just their weekly excursion for fried chicken.  And even the most ambitious Nanny Staters don't propose controlling what people eat at home yet.  Previous attempts to shift Australians' lifestyles through regulation have failed dismally.

The alcopops tax not only failed to reduce youth drinking, but it also led young drinkers to shift from pre-mixed spirits to buying hard liquor outright.

Now, instead of knowing exactly how much alcohol they are drinking, they're mixing their own concoctions that are much harder to measure.

Paternalism rarely works as well as its supporters hope.

It's these sorts of unintended and unexpected consequences of Nanny State policies that should lead us to reject them.

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