The government should not regulate our food behavior

Wednesday, July 30, 2008 | 9:24 a.m. CDT; updated 2:42 p.m. CST, Monday, February 2, 2009
J. Karl Miller writes a weekly opinion column for the Missourian.

As an inveterate newspaper junkie who reads, at the very least, six on a daily basis, I am addicted to opinion pages regardless of the political slant of either the periodical or the contributing columnist. I am often exposed to opposing views. As a result of this exposure,

I am forced to consider alternate positions as objectively and honestly as one is able and, in the research and thought processes so triggered, gain insight into why some believe as they do.

Too often, I am confronted with a proposal so nonsensical that the parameters of wisdom and common sense is warped beyond belief. The latest such issue is a pro-con question: "Do we need a strong federal effort to combat obesity?" Proponents of this governmental intervention include the Center for Science in the Public Interest (or better known as "Food Police"), Public Health Advocacy Institute, World Health Organization, Institute of Medicine and other overt promoters of regulation of individual behavior.

Not surprisingly, they identify the culprit as the food industry and its shameful marketing of junk food, particularly in the targeting of children. Equally predictable are the recommendations - the federal government shall be the guardian of public health in the form of a regulatory agency with clearly established and legally enforceable rules with a vested interest in the well being of - you guessed it - the children.

This meddling cabal would empower the regulatory body with dietary dictatorial authority to tax, legislate and litigate away food and beverage options heretofore left to individual choice. The accomplishment of this feat of social engineering includes but is not limited to controlling food portions served by restaurants, zoning to restrict the locations of fast food outlets, concealing candy bars as if they were Playboy and Penthouse and imposing a "fat" tax on high calorie foods.

Enforcement of this consumer's nightmare is a trial lawyer's dream come true. The Public Health Advocacy Institute mailed warnings to major restaurants and food companies demanding they take responsibility for reducing obesity, threatening lawsuits for noncompliance. Others have recommended such draconian measures as suing doctors who fail to warn of the consequences of obesity as well as suggesting lawyers go after parents of obese children who are permitted TVs in their rooms. The food polices' coup de grâce just has to be National Academy of Science's recommended mandate for the appointment of a "food czar" to control nutrition policies.

This unbridled passion to regulate virtually every aspect of society by the machinations of an unending proliferation of panels, organizations and authorities is not confined to diet but also affects public health, tobacco, recreation, guns, alcohol and marketing at all levels.

Somehow we have acquired a glut of individuals who, rather than mind their own affairs, organize as packs and boards to dictate personal choice. The real or imagined threat of global warming has provided an added bonanza of activities, things and behavior for these managerial socialists to influence.

The true health of the public is a legitimate function of government inasmuch as protection from communicable diseases as well as from threats posed by chemical or biological terrorism fall under the banner of the common good. But, the regulation of personal behavior by determining what food may be consumed and in what quantity is a blatant usurpation of both individual and parental responsibility.

It is not enough that the "intellectually enlightened" among us believe we are not equipped to handle freedom and success and they must regulate the economy and redistribute wealth, but also that government make for us those personal decisions we cannot be trusted to execute on our own.

With statewide as well as national elections staring us in our faces, this is an opportune time indeed to ask: "Do I want a government in which I am a participant, or do I need a nanny?" and cast my vote accordingly.

Finally, opting for government bureaucrats to regulate activities for which you are more than capable of assuming responsibility makes about as much sense as commissioning a dog to watch your food.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached

via e-mail at


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