Is government policy making you (and your kids) fat? Part 3 of 3 on the Documentary Fed Up

In May 2012, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the “Portion Cap Rule.”

Bloomberg’s proposed amendment to the New York City Health Code would require food service establishments to cap the size of the cups used to provide sugary beverages at 16 oz.
The reaction was swift.

Beverage companies, independent bottlers, and distributors all opposed it.

“Nanny State! We don’t need the government making decisions for us,” people decried.

On June 26, 2014, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that the New York City Board of Health had “exceeded the scope of its regulatory authority” and Bloomberg’s rule was permanently put to rest.

In 2010, in an effort to get their students to eat healthier, Pennsylvania schools proposed new guidelines to reduce the number of sweets at classroom parties.

Sarah Palin sprung into action. She called Pennsylvania a “nanny state run amok.”

“Who should be making the decisions what to eat and school choice and everything else? Should it be government or should it be the parents? It should be the parents!” Palin said.

Palin brought “dozens and dozens of cookies” for the students during her visit. (Often during a speech, presumably to flaunt her disdain for government regulation, Palin brings a 7-11 Big Gulp to sip on.)

Are the government’s attempts to regulate a healthier diet for its citizens really a symptom of a so-called “nanny state?”

Whichever way you side on that issue, in Fed Up, Katie Couric claims that the “abundance of cheap, processed, sugar-laden products is a direct result of government policy.”

Here are three things from Fed Up that substantiate her claim:

School lunch programs are big business – – In 1981, President Ronald Reagan, looking to limit the role of government, cut $1.46 billion out of the child nutrition budget. In response, many schools got rid of their cooking equipment. To save money, they turned to the food industry for lunches that can be heated and served. In 2006, 80% of all high schools operated under exclusive contracts with soda companies, and by 2012 more than half of all U.S. school districts served fast food. Kelly D Brownell, PH.D. Dean of public policy at Duke University, says, “The food industry infiltration of the schools is deplorable. The schools have become dependent on the money, and it’s a bargain with the devil. Some schools have become like a 7-Eleven with books.” President Bill Clinton agrees stating that “we could cure literally 80% of the problem for children in school if we went back to school cafeterias where they prepared the food in the school.”

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a huge conflict of interest – Helping farmers promote their products was the original mandate of the USDA. In 1977, the USDA, in addition to that mandate, inherited the responsibility of coming up with dietary guidelines. Marion Nestle Ph.D. Professor of Nutrition New York University says “When obesity became a problem, the Department of Agriculture was put into conflict of interest. Because on the one hand, it was telling people to eat less in order to prevent obesity, and on the other hand, it was telling people to eat more to promote consumption of American agriculture products.”

The Food Industry spends a lot of money for the right to market to your children – In 1977, consumer advocates lobbied the Federal Trade Commission, the government arm in charge of advertising, to regulate ads for sugar-laden products aimed at children. Broadcasters advertising agencies and toy companies banded together in opposition. The proposed restrictions were assailed as an attack on free enterprise and free speech and as a dangerous intrusion by the federal government into family life. The food industry won the battle. No regulations were put in place.

In 2004, Congress again tried to regulate advertising to children. The food industry responded as they had previously and nothing changed.

According to Couric, if things continue at the current rate, 95% of all Americans will be overweight or obese in two decades. And by 2050, one out of every three Americans will have diabetes. The financial ramifications of this are staggering as, according to American pediatric endocrinologist Robert Lustig, currently “75% of our health care dollar goes to the maintenance or treatment of chronic metabolic disease.”

Dr. David Ludwig, professor of pediatrics, Harvard Medical School says…

“ …what does it say about our society if we would rather send children to such mutilating procedures (referring to gastric bypass and bariatric surgery), but yet lack the political will to properly fund school nutrition and ban junk food advertising to children? It reflects a systematic political failure. We’re the richest society in the world. We’ve failed because we’ve placed private profit and special interests ahead of public health.”

Mark Bittman, Opinion Columnist NYT voiced his frustration over the “nanny-state argument”…

“Soda is the cigarettes of the twenty-first century and the sooner we get that clear, the sooner we get rid of these idiotic arguments about free speech allows us to sell things that are poisonous.”

According to Michael Pollan, American author, activist and professor, the most important thing you can do is “cook real food.”

“You can forget about nutrients. You don’t have to worry about sugars. If you cook real food, your family will be eating much better,” Pollan says.

That wraps up my three-part series on the documentary Fed Up. It’s currently available on Netflix. Check it out if you get the chance.

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