Dr. Kava gives Chicago Tribune some food for thought

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In yesterday s Chicago Tribune, a reporter asked ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava if government anti-obesity interventions, such as taxing junk food, effectively reduce the toll of obesity. Countering the predictable opinions of groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which came down in favor of enforcing restaurant menu postings of calorie counts, Dr. Kava argues that many of these initiatives simply won t cut the fat. (In fact, multiple studies have shown such menu labels to be an ineffective means of encouraging healthier food choices: The most recent appears in BMJ, and found New York City s calorie-labeling law to have had little impact on diners choices; another involves a study of two Belgian university canteens menu labeling, and was published in the latest issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.)

For example, questioning the effectiveness of introducing grocery stores that make fresh produce available in so-called food deserts, Dr. Kava points out that, "Just making these foods available doesn't mean that people are going to buy them or eat them. Many people are not going to know what to do with them because their family has never used that kind of food. In my mind, she says, it boils down to appropriate education.

Echoing ACSH s long-held view that banning or taxing particular foods, such as soda or french fries, are simplistic approaches to a complex problem, Dr. Kava tells the Tribune that such rules seem "kind of punitive. Simply demonizing one kind of food or beverage is not going to solve the problem."

ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom is disturbed by the implications of the recent barrage of new proposals. All of a sudden, he says, the government seems to care very much about obesity rates. I suspect that this is because we re moving quickly in the direction of government-controlled health care, where we will see new (and often scientifically questionable) laws aimed at limiting health care expenditures and (especially) raising revenues. And every time this happens, we lose more choice and more autonomy, he observes. The more we expect the government to take care of us, the less we rely on personal responsibility to take care of ourselves and the more freedoms we lose. Ask someone from the former Soviet Union how well that worked out.