More nannyism

The Institute of Medicine — a division of the tax-funded National Academies of Science — has issued a 92-page report titled “Local Government Actions to Prevent Childhood Obesity.”

And what local government actions do they propose?

Send in men with guns to solve the problem.

The good doctors don’t put it quite that way, of course. What committee member Mary Story, a nutritionist at the University of Minnesota, and the others actually proposed is that local governments should impose new, additional taxes on soda pop and other sweetened drinks.

But “taxes” are not the same thing as “suggestions.” If people refuse to pay their “taxes,” eventually uniformed men with guns do come around to seize their stuff.

The experts didn’t suggest a specific tax rate. Ms. Story did assert that raising the price of sodas and other sugar-sweetened drinks by 10 percent would result in an 8 percent to 10 percent decrease in consumption.

One problem — leaving aside the threat of force — is that cutting back on soda consumption hasn’t really been shown to translate into meaningful weight loss. A clinical trial this year found that cutting back 100 calories’ worth of soda each day produced only about half a pound of weight loss after a year and a half, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The Institute of Medicine report acknowledged “There is limited evidence” that such a tax would do much to combat childhood obesity. But the tax would have a broad reach, and public support for it is growing — two reasons why local governments should give it strong consideration, according to the report.

There’s also widespread public support for knocking on wood and throwing salt over your left shoulder. Does that mean it’s time to move forward on those, too?

In the past 30 years, the proportion of obese elementary kids rose from 6.5 percent to 17 percent. But there’s no evidence their diets have gotten worse. What’s changed is exercise — the computer generation eschews it.

But most important, is this a “public health” matter that falls within the purview of government in the first place?

The public will generally tolerate infringements on a neighbor’s property rights if it can be shown that neighbor is maintaining a dangerous breeding ground for mosquitoes or rats, or introducing cholera or diphtheria germs into the common water supply.

Is childhood obesity a public health crisis, along those lines? No. This is to take a metaphor and treat it as a fact. Your kids can’t catch “infectious obesity” from the neighbors. Not all health problems that affect members of the public are “public health crises.”

Seek to educate folks about the importance of diet, by all means. But a government that blithely abuses its monopoly on armed force to try and fix everything will eventually end up powerless to fix anything.

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