In an attempt to placate the health care industry, President Obama launched a new iniative to improve the health of the American consumer. A torrent of criticism followed regarding government regulation of food consumption. While this knee-jerk reaction has flooded the media, I propose we look individually at the measures proposed by President Obama, and assess the pros and cons of these wide reaching changes.
Issue 1. All school food will become monitored for nutrition quality. Junk food and empty calories will not be served in a public school system, instead they will be replaced with healthier, more nutritious foods. America has an ongoing childhood obesity epidemic causing more disease, unhealthier children, and increased health care costs. The cost of treating type II diabetes in children was over $127 million last year, a disease that could be prevented with a modified diet and a less sedentary lifestyle (Gavin). The major provider for a school age child is the public school system, so government has a responsibility to monitor the school lunches for nutritional quality. This will increase the health of the American child, a necessity in light of the pandemic of obesity. It will also give government responsibility of what some see as a parent’s responsibility. Will mandated nutrition produce healthier children?
Issue 2. All restaurants must have calorie content and nutrition facts available to the customer, so that the consumer can make educated food choices (Popovich). This creates a national standard for restaurants and vending machines to inform the customer of the quality and nutritional composition of the food being served. The label will look the same as the label on our consumer goods at the grocery store, enabling quick reference for an easy decision. The additional cost to the menu will be absorbed by the restaurant. The positive aspect is the increased information available for the consumer to make a choice, the negative is the cost of the new menus will be passed from the restaurant to the consumer. Will this change the bad choices Americans are eating?
Issue 3. The Government food program and WIC have been increased by .06 cents per recipient, amounting to an increase in the Federal Budget from $39 billion to $75 billion. The national poverty level has increased and unemployment has increased, swelling the rolls of those receiving food stamps by over $5 billion Obama’s first year in office (Bradley). These people are dependent upon food stamps to provide their basic nutritional needs. This bill will increase the food quantity available to the needy. Unfortunately, this small increase will be swallowed by the increase in the consumer price of food. Will this pittance make the same dent in American health as it will in the national deficit?
Issue 4. Soda and Sales Tax Debate - America consumes more than 10% of its daily calories in the form of sugar-lace drinking beverages. Not only is this economically foolish, it is physically unhealthy, as evidenced by the rise in sugary based drinks that parallels the increase in body fat and obesity in the American consumer (Siegel). A Soda and Sales tax would deter consumer spending and possibility allow the consumer to reconsider the wisdom of a high-calorie purchase. A sales tax would increase revenue for the federal budget, needed to cover the costs of the health care bill. Consumers would benefit by shifting their soda dollars to healthy food choices. Beverage makers would have to change their product lines and advertising, a successful market that today is making $110 billion annually. How will the beverage industry recover from this challenge? Will this abruptly effect the economy by decreasing jobs while funneling income to Research and Development?
Issue 5. Food Safety Bill-Food Safety Monitoring Act of January, 2011, gives sweeping power to the Food and Drug Administration and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. FSMA will now issue mandatory recalls for products determined to be unsafe. This bill expands the power of the FDA, and increases inspectors, with an expected cost of over $1.4 billion dollars. As American food is being provided more by the manufacturer and less by the American farmer, personal or corporate responsibility is no longer a budget choice for agri-business. American people will be protected from “greedy” profiteers and benefit from safer food. The CDC stated that food-borne illnesses and fatalities have decreased since 1998 (Winkler). Is this a necessary improvement and who will pay for this it?
Government intervention is a necessity as long as American consumers continue to make bad choices that threaten the security and safety of our country. In a press conference on obesity, Mrs. Obama quoted generals saying that unhealthy food choices are a national security threat because “weight problems are the leading medical reason that [military] recruits are rejected (Jalonik).” We have compromised our national security as a result of our reckless food choices and sedentary lifestyles.