Obesity and Overreaching
Reading this week’s articles involving obesity, it becomes readily apparent that the government considers obesity to be beyond a mere matter of personal choice. Reading President Kennedy’s piece in which he calls upon Americans to better their physical fitness as a means of patriotic service, one could easily make the assumption that this is an antiquated example of Cold War politics, and that America was looking for every possible way to exert its superiority on the world stage over the Soviet Union. It is therefore intriguing to note that even today, justification for government involvement in policing against obesity is justified through its relation to national security, as this article implies. Its author goes as far as to call obesity a “national security threat,” and centers his argument against obesity on the fact that obesity is a legitimate, tangible national security threat. Although the article is light on potential solutions to the problem introduced, one of the most interesting is to create zoning laws that would prevent fast-food restaurants from being allowed near schools, as the author asserts that studies have shown that there are more obese children in areas in which such restaurants are within a half mile of a school. Other measures have also been proposed that would involve an active government role in the regulation of what individuals consume. There is currently a debate in New York City over whether food stamps should be allow to be used to purchase soda and other sugary beverages, with Mayor Michael Bloomberg in favor of enacting such a ban in an attempt to lower obesity rates in within the city. While advocates of the ban insist that they are not attempting to stigmatize underprivileged citizens and are merely attempting to aid the public health, opponents criticize the attempt as a means of trying to control the bodies of poverty-stricken citizens, and see such laws as an attempt to further the gap between the rich and the poor. Given such that such a politicization of obesity has clearly become the norm, one must ask: at what point does an attempt to improve the public health become a situation of over-regulation? Should people have complete freedom to choose what to eat, or is it justified to treat certain types of food as tobacco is treated, ie. as a dangerous product that should be made more difficult to purchase? And finally, is it ethical for the government to impose limitations on what is purchased with government sponsored food aid such as food stamps, and if so, why?