Can government regulate obesity?

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Although Mayor Bloomberg s ban on large-sized sugary drinks was thrown out by a state court judge last month, he intends to continue the government war on obesity. There remains a lively debate about how best to accomplish reducing obesity s toll, and to what extent government measures can influence personal behavior.

Addressing that issue, economist Michael Marlow provides his perspective in an opinion piece appearing in the Wall Street Journal, questioning whether taxes on sugary beverages as some have advocated might catalyze a dismal chain reaction, with escalating government intrusions on personal freedom.

He points to the weak associations between soda taxes and obesity prevalence, and highlights the fact that individuals would easily be able to get around the soda tax. And he points out the fact that tax revenues are often not used for their intended purposes, as in the case of tobacco-related taxes.

Marlow believes that if the government has any role in fighting obesity, it would be to encourage private initiatives around exercise and dieting. They can promote more bicycle lanes. But they should stay out of the business of trying to alter behavior for people s own good. And he cautions people to think about What would come after Mayor Bloomberg s downsized sodas?

ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross added this: If the mayor, as an example of an official who believes in governmental interventions in health-related behavior, really wanted to make an impact, he might consider restoring schools requirement for regular phys-ed classes to increase healthy exercise.