According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of U.S. adult population is obese (Overweight and Obesity). The current situation also doesn’t bode well when it comes to young Americans and it is feared that most Americans may be obese by 2030, with 60 percent obesity rate in thirteen states (Gates). Thus, it is not surprising that local and state governments may sometimes be tempted to go for stricter regulations to reduce consumption of junk food. One of the most prominent examples in recent times might have been former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on large-sized soda drinks which was later overturned (Lusk). Bans like these may be well-intentioned but they do not belong in democratic societies like the U.S. It is not the government’s job to tell people what is good and what is not good for them because adults are capable of making the decisions for them. A better alternative may be to educate the public and discourage them in less-extreme measures as opposed to bans.
There may be some who would like more regulations like Mayor Bloomberg’s soda ban but they should realize that democracy doesn’t mean government does everything that is good for people but instead it means citizens are able to make their own choices within reasonable limits. If sale of junk food should be restricted in some form, then regulations regarding sale of tobacco and alcohol should also be introduced. All adult Americans are able to purchase tobacco and alcohol products even though both of these products impose health and financial costs on the society. No one can argue that tobacco products are good for people yet they are widely available.
Persuasion works better than restriction. More effective alternative to outright bans may be public education programs that increase awareness about the dangers of junk food. There is now a greater awareness of the high sugar content in America and different stakeholders have played a role towards this growing awareness. We are already seeing the effects of growing awareness about the dangers of soda as soda consumption declined by 1 percent in 2011 as compared to the previous year. The last time such a level was seen was in 1996 (Reuters). Thus, the best strategy is education and the results may be slow but there will be considerable gains over the long term.
But it is also important to acknowledge that there are always exceptions and some form of regulation may be needed in case of children because they do not have the same maturity as adults to carefully weigh the pros and cons of particular choices. This makes it easier for marketers to exploit children, thus, U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama’s efforts towards banning junk food ads in schools are a step in the right direction (Adelmann). Such a measure will not be any different from restricting children’s access to adult media content or tobacco.
There is no doubt excessive consumption of fast food doesn’t only impose health and financial costs on the individuals but also huge social costs on the society. But one of the defining characteristics of free societies is the freedom to make individual choices even if they may not be rational. A better alternative to draconian regulations like Mayor Bloomberg’s soda ban is education programs that promote behavioral change by increasing awareness.
- Adelmann, Bob. Michelle Obama and USDA to Ban Junk Food Ads in Schools. 26 February 2014. 5 April 2014 http://www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/constitution/item/17726-michelle-obama-and-usda-to-ban-junk-food-ads-in-schools
- Gates, Sara. American Obesity In 2030: Most U.S. Residents Will Be Obese Within Next 2 Decades. 18 September 2012. 5 April 2014 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/18/us-obesity-2030-americans-obese_n_1893578.html
- Lusk, Jayson. Bloomberg’s soda ban fizzles, New Yorkers win. 11 March 2013. 5 April 2014 http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/bloomberg-soda-ban-fizzles-new-yorkers-win-article-1.1285444
- Overweight and Obesity. 5 April 2014 http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html
- Reuters. UPDATE 2-U.S. soda consumption fell faster in 2011. 20 March 2012. 5 April 2014 http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/20/drinks-idUSL1E8EK1P620120320