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Taxing Obesity

tgirsch posts about the politics of obesity. While an interesting read, I must disagree with his proposed solutions:

outlaw marketing products to children.

Unconstitutional and pointless. Kids will still know what Twinkies are.

limiting sweets (and banning junk food) in schools

I would agree that the government funded schools shouldn’t provide junk food, but defining what is junk food is not an exact science. I’m sure the nefarious candy makers would create something that tastes sweet but meets whatever minimum requirements that would be established as junk food.

If there’s one thing the War on Civil Liberties err drugs and taxing tobacco have taught us, it’s that these things don’t work and cost someone a lot of money.

Update: This post by Bubba illustrates my point.

9 Responses to “Taxing Obesity”

  1. SK Bubba Says:

    Check this out:

    Schools introduce health food to improve nutrition

  2. tgirsch Says:

    SayUncle:
    While an interesting read, I must disagree with his proposed solutions.

    Yeah, that’s easy enough to do. But where I come from, if you’re going to pooh-pooh an idea, you’d better have a better idea queued up.

    It’s easy to sit smugly and say “that won’t work.” It’s not so easy to suggest alternatives that will. Devils’ advocates are needed, but if they were all we had, then we’d never do anything.

    Or are you suggesting that we don’t need to do anything about this?

    [me]outlaw marketing products to children.
    [you]Unconstitutional and pointless. Kids will still know what Twinkies are.

    Unconstitutional how? Are you saying that laws that prevent us from marketing porn, alcohol, and cigarettes to children are also unconstitutional, and also pointless?

    And yes, Kids will still know what Twinkies are. But if marketing to children doesn’t increase sales, then why do companies spend gazillions of dollars to advertise Twinkies during after-school and Saturday morning cartoons? They must be seeing a cost benefit, or they wouldn’t be doing it.

    [me]limiting sweets (and banning junk food) in schools
    [you]I would agree that the government funded schools shouldn’t provide junk food, but defining what is junk food is not an exact science.

    It doesn’t matter. You wouldn’t have to define it. Just ban vending machines altogether. Then you’re only eating what you’ve brought with you, or what the school is providing in school lunches (assuming you haven’t also gutted that program).

    You want to offer snacks? Set up a fruit stand. I doubt anyone would object (other than to the cost).

    Yes, kids would still bring Doritos and Twinkies and other crap. That would be their choice, and you can’t stop them. But you don’t have to make it any easier for them by putting a Taco Bell in the school cafeteria.

    If you read my posts over at Quiet Life, you’ll see that I’m not saying that heavy-handed regulation will work. But there are some simple, common-sense things that we can do that would constitute a start, without trampling on civil liberties.

  3. SayUncle Says:

    First, i never claimed to have a solution as you would define it, since i know the government needs to stay out of the issue. It’s a parental responsibility issue. So, yes i am suggesting that we don’t need to do anything about this?

    Unconstitutional how?

    First amendment.

    Are you saying that laws that prevent us from marketing porn, alcohol, and cigarettes to children are also unconstitutional, and also pointless?

    Yup. Again, responsibility lies with parents monitoring what their kids watch.

    You wouldn’t have to define it. Just ban vending machines altogether. Then you’re only eating what you’ve brought with you, or what the school is providing in school lunches (assuming you haven’t also gutted that program).

    Well, as the link to bubba’s site above shows, schools just adjust their menus to comply, evidenced by low-fat cheetos. And there were no vending machines availabe to students when I was in school. So I (and all the other kids) just snuck into the teachers’ lounge and used theirs.

    That would be their choice, and you can’t stop them.

    Bingo, we have a winner. Although, i’d say it’s the parents’ choice since they typically buy the food.

  4. tgirsch Says:

    You still haven’t addressed my question of why advertisers spend so much money on targeting children if it’s “pointless.”

    It’s a parental responsibility issue.

    So instead of regulating what foods are available to children, should we hold parents criminally liable for their kids being fat?

    Also:

    [me] Unconstitutional how?
    [you] First amendment.

    It would seem that the courts disagree with you. How can we have laws prohibiting false advertising? Because the courts have ruled that the state has a compelling interest in protecting its consumers that trumps the first amendment here. Why couldn’t the same be said for protecting children? If this were not the case, the laws against marketing cigs/booze/porn to children would have been stricken from the books long ago.

    There’s also the FCC issue. If the FCC has a legal right to prevent me from saying “shit” on open airwaves, then they certainly have a right to prevent me from marketing porn there. Whether or not they you think they should have that right is irrelevant.

    So while you may think that product advertising ought to be protected by the first amendment, it clearly isn’t. And I would argue that it shouldn’t be.

  5. SayUncle Says:

    It’s pointless because kids will know what sweets are.

    should we hold parents criminally liable for their kids being fat?

    It’s illegal to be fat? Kidding aside, there is no need to legislate against this because any legislation will be ineffective and wasteful. Crackheads still find crack no matter how many billions are spent on the drug war. Fat kids will still find sugar.

    It would seem that the courts disagree with you.

    Wouldn’t be the first time. It doesn’t make them right.

    Why couldn’t the same be said for protecting children?

    Because false advertising and protecting children are different issues.

    If the FCC has a legal right to prevent me from saying “shit” on open airwaves

    I don’t think they do. And i am fully aware that the FCC has that authority, but I think that authority is unconstitutional. Such decisions to censor should be a function of the media outlet.

    Whether or not they you think they should have that right is irrelevant.

    So, i and you should give up this blogging thing because what we think is irrelevant? Hardly.

  6. tgirsch Says:

    It’s illegal to be fat? Kidding aside, there is no need to legislate against this because any legislation will be ineffective and wasteful. Crackheads still find crack no matter how many billions are spent on the drug war. Fat kids will still find sugar.

    It must be nice to live in your world. Problems can’t be solved so why bother trying? Just sit back and enjoy the ride! In the real world, however, some of us do feel an obligation to try and solve problems where we see them.

    Is the drug war a tremendous waste of money? Absolutely! Should drug use be decriminalized? Probably. Should we make it legal to market and sell drugs to children? Absolutely not! And if you’re arguing that we should make it legal, I want you to go on the record right now and say so.

    I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that’s not your argument. And if it’s not, then you’re conceding that some regulation some of the time is acceptable, and it’s just a matter of where you draw the line.

    Do I want to make sugary snacks illegal? Of course not. Would I like to see reasonable limitations placed on where they’re available, and to whom they’re marketed? Absolutely. I don’t think either proposition is terribly unreasonable.

    And they’ve got a good chance of working. Legalized alcohol with restrictions on availability has worked in ways prohibition never could. Are there still problems with the system? Of course. As you say, people will abuse if they want to. But you don’t have to make it easier for them.

    As for the legislation being “ineffective,” you’ll have to convince me of that. You’re essentially saying that children would be just as likely to gorge themselves on crap even if that crap weren’t directly marketed to them dozens of times a day. And you can’t prove that, or you would have addressed my advertising question by now.

    Clearly, advertisers thank that bombarding children with advertising is an effective way of getting them to consume more of their product. And they’ve got well-paid research teams to confirm this for them. If they didn’t think it worked, they wouldn’t spend so much money on it.

    Conversely, if banning such advertising would have no discernable effect on consumption, the advertisers wouldn’t mind at all. Hey, it would save them a ton of dough.

    It’s obvious to me that your argument that such a ban would be “ineffective” simply does not hold water.

    As for “expensive,” how much would it cost? There might be negative economic impact to the junk food sector, but the direct cost to taxpayers of implementing such a ban would probably be less than the cost of ONE DAY of the War in Iraq.

    [me] Whether or not they you think they should have that right is irrelevant.
    [you] So, i and you should give up this blogging thing because what we think is irrelevant?

    That’s not entirely what I meant and I think you know that. What you think is irrelevant to the way things currently are in practice. You and I can make all the broad, sweeping statements that we want, but sooner or later we’re going to have to work to persuade people to come around to our point of view.

    If I’m reading you right on the obesity issue, your point of view is “Move along, people, there’s nothing to see here.” That’s where our fundamental disagreement starts.

  7. SayUncle Says:

    I’ve addressed your advertising question (and my limited knowledge of advertising aside) and am unconviced targeting kids makes a difference. Kids have no jobs, don’t make money, and don’t go to the store to purchase items. And they will still know what is candy regardless of these ads. I am referring to the ones that would be watching the cartoons you speak of, of course, and not high schoolers. At the store, a child may cry for candy but mom & dad are the ones that have to say yes or no.

    It must be nice to live in your world. Problems can’t be solved so why bother trying?

    I never said there’s no solution, i said yours were wrong. The solution (as with most things) is educating parents and thier children. Not jumping the gun and passing unnecessary legislation.

    As for the legislation being “ineffective,” you’ll have to convince me of that.

    My method of objective debate may differ from yours, but i think the burden of proof is on you to prove that such legislation would be effective. Not on me to prove it’s not. I’ve already illustrated that kids will still get junk food the way i did in school. And also because i have pointed to similar legislation (restricting acces) that is ineffective, here’s more: gun control, prohibition, radar detector bans, ad infinitum.

    What you think is irrelevant to the way things currently are in practice.

    I’m glad that little black lady who refused to give up her seat on a bus didn’t think that way 🙂

  8. tgirsch Says:

    I’ve addressed your advertising question (and my limited knowledge of advertising aside) and am unconviced targeting kids makes a difference.

    So you’re saying the advertisers are wasting their money?

    Kids have no jobs, don’t make money, and don’t go to the store to purchase items. And they will still know what is candy regardless of these ads.

    When was the last time you were around kids? No, they don’t have money, but they sure can make a lot of noise asking for Brand X like they saw on TV.

    The solution (as with most things) is educating parents and thier children.

    How do you propose to do that without passing “unnecessary legislation?”

    It’s beginning to sound like you think I should be allowed to market porn directly to children. Hey, it’s up to their parents to steer them away.

    My method of objective debate may differ from yours, but i think the burden of proof is on you to prove that such legislation would be effective. Not on me to prove it’s not.

    There’s a little thing called “proof by counterexample.” You say banning advertising wouldn’t be effective. The underlying assumption there has to be that the advertising isn’t particularly effective. I point out that clearly the advertisers beg to differ, but what do they know? It’s not like they have reams of research to help identify whom they should target. Oh, wait…

    By the way, the only way to conclusively prove that such legislation does or does not work would be to pass it somewhere and monitor the results. But you’ve essentially said that I can’t pass the legislation until I’ve proven that it works. So you’ve set up an impossible burden of proof.

    I’ve already illustrated that kids will still get junk food the way i did in school.

    Which is all well and good, if you live in binary-land, where everything is an easy yes/no question. You’re ignoring degrees. You’re telling me, with a straight face, that you got all the junk food you wanted, and that you would neither have gotten nor wanted any more if there had been readily-accessible vending machines full of doritos in your school, and Taco Bell and McDonald’s in your cafeteria? I find that exceptionally implausible.

    And also because i have pointed to similar legislation (restricting acces) that is ineffective, here’s more: gun control, prohibition, radar detector bans, ad infinitum.

    I’m not convinced that gun control is ineffective. Prohibition is a different thing altogether — it’s not a restricted access law, it’s prohibition. You seem to be of the opinion that if legislation doesn’t completely eliminate the problem it’s trying to address, then that legislation has “failed” and is “unnecessary.” But that’s demonstrably untrue.

    Do people still drink? Of course they do. Do they drink in the numbers and amounts that they would if access to alcohol were completely unfettered? I don’t know, but I doubt it.

    Do people still shoot people? Of course. Do they do so in the same numbers they would if access to guns were completely unfettered? I don’t know, but I doubt it.

    Restricted access laws recognize that people who really want something are going to get it, but acknowleges that we don’t have to make it easy for them, or encourage them to do it.

    Taking your arguments to their logical conclusion, we should repeal the drinking age, bar time, liquor licensing, tobacco age requirements, porn/tobacco/alcohol advertising restrictions, and all gun ownership requirements, to name a few. And when we’ve repealed all of these, there will be NO corresponding increase in drunkenness, smoking, gun violence, etc.

    The question becomes one of cost:benefit. At what point does the benefit from an access restriction justify its cost in dollars and liberties?

    In the case of banning fast food joints and vending machines in schools, the cost to liberties is almost nil since, as you’ve repeatedly pointed out, kids can still get the junk if they really want to. The cost in dollars is less easy to quantify, because more and more schools are actually using vending machines and fast food chains as additional revenue streams.

    In the case of banning marketing directly to children, the cost in dollars is negligible (unless you’re talking about dollars lost in sales, which, if you’re correct about the ban being ineffective, will be negligible). The cost in liberties isn’t much either, since they can still market to the parents.

  9. tgirsch Says:

    I’m glad that little black lady who refused to give up her seat on a bus didn’t think that way 🙂

    Well, the little black lady knowingly risked arrest. Civil disobedience is a much different thing than simply blowing a bunch of hot air. The latter is all we’re doing. 😉

    Anyway, I’ll withdraw the point.