The scientists on an Institutes of Medicine panel that studied 700 programs to combat obesity says that it will take dramatic measures to turn the situation around.
America's obesity epidemic is so deeply rooted that it will take dramatic and systemic measures - from overhauling farm policies and zoning laws to, possibly, introducing a soda tax - to fix it, the influential Institute of Medicine said on Tuesday.
In an ambitious 478-page report, the IOM refutes the idea that obesity is largely the result of a lack of willpower on the part of individuals. Instead, it embraces policy proposals that have met with stiff resistance from the food industry and lawmakers, arguing that multiple strategies will be needed to make the U.S. environment less "obesogenic."
The IOM, part of the National Academies, offers advice to the government and others on health issues. Its report was released at the Weight of the Nation conference, a three-day meeting hosted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cable channel HBO will air a documentary of the same name next week.
"People have heard the advice to eat less and move more for years, and during that time a large number of Americans have become obese," committee member Shiriki Kumanyika of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine told Reuters. "That advice will never be out of date. But when you see the increase in obesity you ask, what changed? And the answer is, the environment. The average person cannot maintain a healthy weight in this obesity-promoting environment."
This would be a great debate to have - if debate were allowed. Unfortunately, the regulators will brook no opposition to their notions of how to "cure" obesity so we are likely to be led around by the nose like a pig to the trough in order to eat what the government says we should be eating.
Some of the ideas are not necessarily bad. Encouraging - not mandating -fast food places to offer healthier alternatives is a good idea. I think ending farm subsidies is another good idea that goes far beyond helping to combat obesity and is simply good public policy.
Limits on sugar in products? Maybe. A tax on sugary soda? Unnecessary.Sugar substitutes suitable for baking on an industrial scale are on the way that will be cheaper and calorie free. Fat content is another target of regulators and here too, technology may offer a solution that gives all the benefits of fatty oils without the high fat content.
In short, government regulation isn't the only answer, or even the primary answer. Despite what the panel says about individual responsibility not working, there is no reason to punish those who use moderation when it comes to fat and sugar in their foods - especially since there is zero evidence that those who are not responsible will benefit by new regulations and change their behavior.