Tess Vigeland: A couple of weeks ago we aired a commentary opposing the ban on giant sodas in New York City. Justin Wilson posed the idea that obesity is a product of personal irresponsibility. Well this week commentator David Lazarus offers a rebuttal.
David Lazarus: Whenever a business wants to justify selling you something it knows is bad for you, it doesn’t pitch you on the merits of the product. It pitches you on a red-white-and-blue, don’t-tread-on-me sense of personal freedom.
That’s how the tobacco industry plays it, and that’s how Justin Wilson spun things in a recent commentary on this show. He was discussing New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban on super-sized sugary beverages. Past public-health regulations focused on protecting us from each other, Wilson argued. Bloomberg’s proposal represents something new: Protecting us from ourselves.
Now, I know Justin Wilson. He and I have spoken about the obesity epidemic. I don’t mean to undermine his credibility on this issue, but it helps if you know a little more about his organization, the friendly-sounding Center for Consumer Freedom. That’s one of Ralph Nader’s groups, right?
No. The Center for Consumer Freedom is a front for the food and beverage industry, which provides most of its funding. The organization’s staffers have a clear interest in downplaying the responsibility of their corporate backers for the obesity crisis. They’re also paid to decry any move that they say infringes on people’s liberties.
But Wilson was right: Mayor Bloomberg is trying to protect us from ourselves. Why? Because we’re too easily swayed by the food and beverage industry’s ads telling us to consume more. According to the latest estimates, nearly half the adult population of the U.S. will be obese by 2030.
So are Americans fat because they want to be? I don’t think so. Do they eat and drink so much because they choose to? I doubt it. Americans are fat because they can’t help themselves, because they’re bombarded with cues from food and beverage sellers to keep stuffing their faces.
If that’s what consumer freedom is all about, we’d all benefit from less of it.
Vigeland: David Lazarus answers your questions from time to time on this program. He’s also a business and consumer columnist for the Los Angeles Times.
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