Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Nanny Knows?

Individuals across the political spectrum can get excited about the notion of the Nanny State. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed a bill to ban the use of trans fats in restaurants. Trans fats are not healthy. For restaurants in California, they will soon be illegal, and nationally the trend towards requiring restaurants to have nutritional information on every menu item is all but unstoppable. At a McDonald's or an Arby's, who cares? Do you really want to know the figures for a $45 steak?

David Harsanyi published The Nanny State last year from the right wing perspective, complaining that various "do-gooders" if allowed would turn the United States into a nation of children. I'm not clear what David has to say about laws against birth control, abortion, or gay sex.

I raised the subject with an intelligent group that arrived at the consensus that "the line" rests somewhere near the point where irresponsible behavior puts other people at risk, hence the power of second hand smoke in the justification of aggressive anti-smoking leglislation that also occurs as unstoppable. In California even outdoor smoking is banned in many public locations with the argument that an exhaled puff can find its way to the children downwind in the park.

Where does such a line put us with seat belt laws, motorcycle helmet laws, and similar legislation? The other argument involves the costs incurred by society should daddy fail to don said seat belt or helmet and end up splattered against a road or windshield (or both). If we're going to discuss the costs to society, how expensive is it to keep the brain dead on life support? As the aging boomers march en masse towards Kaputenland, do we pass legislation making it illegal for them to stop taking their meds?

Failure to exercise is as bad for you as those fries. Shall we implement the Cardio Cops? Do you have documentation of your 20 minutes three times this week? What does obesity cost the nation in health care expenses? Shall we implement BMI limits and fines?

Images of those Nazi films with all of the homogenous looking women in white gym suits or men doing various gymnastics in large arrays across fields sends shivers up my back.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The state of affairs is the result of a lot more than just "do-gooders" trying to make us behave. A lot of this crap comes from greedy trial lawyers who chase every opportunity to make a quick buck.

When I was in school, we had fun playing tag, dodge ball, kick ball, and many other semi-contact sports. All of those are now banned because schools are afraid of being sued because a ball gave a kid a bloody nose. In my time, if you fell and scratched your arm, or fell chasing a ball and sprained your ankle, it was part of being a kid.

Nowadays, if Johnny gets as much as a bruise on the monkey bars, some attorney is screaming for a quick out of court settlement for an easy ten thousand. It is terrible what is happening.

It goes back to accountability and responsibility. The drunk blames the bartender if he gets hammered. It's McDonald's fault if you burn yourself when you spill coffee on your face. It's Burger King's fault if you're fat.

We are becoming a nation of children.

7/29/2008 9:50 PM  
Anonymous Mariana said...

No, we shall not implement Cardio Cops, but PE and recess in schools.

7/30/2008 4:45 AM  
Blogger Liza said...

This shows how easy it is to take a conversation that started about trans fats to the extreme. Why not just focus on the issue at hand? Why not understand the position of those who advocate for better food labels and safe food before making the association of increased government control of our lives?

The problem with processed foods is that people do not know what they are really eating. When medical researchers find strong or suspected links between certain food ingredients and disease, it seems very reasonable to me that the public has the right to know if they are consuming those foods. If potentially harmful foods are hidden within other food ingredients and are not required to be labeled as such, then people have no way to know if they are eating food they would like to avoid.

In addition, when medical researchers find causal relationships between certain food products and disease, disease for which society bears the cost, then it is in the best interest of society for those products to be prohibited from inclusion in food.

This hardly describes a nanny state. Corporations, including those who produce food, can hardly be depended upon to place the welfare of society above their profits. They produce food as cheaply as possible without enough regard for the long term health benefits of consumers, unless they are required by law to do so.

There are too many people, many of whom are children, who are unaware that what they are eating might be harmful to them. When was the last time you engaged a six year old in a conversation about high fructose corn syrup or aspartame while the kid was drinking a Diet Coke?

Poor diets lead to disease, and it hardly seems fair to me that a child or young adult should suffer a lifetime of diabetes because the child did not know what he/she was consuming. What is the point of medical research if it does not lead to better health?

This is a no brainer, as I see it. However, I do believe that an informed adult has the right to eat garbage food and be a fat slob with diabetes and atherosclerosis if that is his choice. What we need to concerned about, are those who never had the opportunity to make the choice, yet suffer the consequences.

7/30/2008 7:56 AM  
Blogger The Navigator said...

Liza, I re-read the post, and it is about the Nanny State. Trans-fat is just one of the examples, while it may have been the first. X4mr can correct me if I'm wrong.

First, one has to distinguish children from adults. Children are in no position to defend themselves and will eat what their parents provide. Some argue that parents have the right to feed their children whatever they wish, and efforts to tell parents what to feed their own children is an invasion of the home. I agree with you.

Another important factor is advertising. Television ads for tobacco and liquor were banned some time ago in the US. Ads for prescription drugs are banned in every country except the US.

Los Angeles or South Los Angeles just banned any new fast food restaurants from being built, and Anon has a point about the frivolous law suits. Someone did sue McDonalds because the coffee was hot.

Did they really ban dodge ball in schools? That was one of my favorites.

7/30/2008 8:29 AM  
Blogger Liza said...

Nav, X4mr states, ""I raised the subject with an intelligent group that arrived at the consensus that "the line" rests somewhere near the point where irresponsible behavior puts other people at risk...""

This I agree with. However, irresponsible behavior is more than someone blowing his cigarette smoke in my face. It is also about manufacturers putting ingredients in processed foods that are known or suspected to have long term health effects linked to disease, and an uninformed public consuming these foods. It is about children, and it is also about adults. And don't even get me started on the pet food industry.

Conservatives and right wing nuts oppose all government regulation of industry because regulations drive up the cost of doing business. Sadly, they get a lot of people to agree with them on issues related to safe food because they frame it as government interference in your private life. I find this absurd, especially when the issue is as minimal as proper labeling of food.
Adults are not being treated like children when they are told what they are putting into their bodies and what the long term effects might be.

7/30/2008 10:42 AM  
Anonymous Observer said...

Labels or the access to labels (restaurants) do not concern me or Harsanyi. There is nothing wrong with information.

The concern occurs when the state outlaws an activity they consider irresponsible, such as eating the "Hamdog" discussed in the book. Another item is the hamburger that has bacon, cheese, fries, etc., stuffed between Krispy Creme donuts as buns. It probably has over 5000 fat calories and 200g of saturated fat. Should such an item be made illegal?

I think he is asking where the line is for protecting a person from his own stupidity or ignorance. The "risk to others" test would not support a helmet law for motorcyclists. The societal cost argument may support helmet laws, seat belts, etc., but why stop there?

Does an employer have the right to fire employees who smoke because of the impact on the health insurance premiums? Can an employer discriminate against the obese for the same reasons? The health of employees does affect company costs, and the health of a population affects the national health care system.

7/30/2008 1:02 PM  
Blogger Liza said...

I haven't read the book. I just believe that the public has the right to know what is in their food and drugs, what they are being exposed to, etc...

Actually, I do think that the government has a role in preventative health care. And, I do not believe that health insurance should be tied to employment for a multitude of reasons. One of the many downsides of employers being one of the major providers of health insurance is that there is in fact discrimination against the unhealthy whether legal or not.

I tend to think that the government's role in preventative health care is mostly education. The government cannot save people from their own stupidity no matter how many laws they pass. However, removing harmful food ingredients from public consumption should not be part of the "where does it stop?" argument.

Some food ingredients are just simply harmful, or harmful to enough people that substitutions should be required. Other food, like saturated fat, is harmful mostly in excess over time. That is where education is required.

So, no, the repulsive hamburger on the Krispy Kreme donut that you describe should not be illegal.

7/30/2008 2:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is one of my main fears regarding a government managed and funded healthcare system. When the government begins flipping the bill for health costs they then have all the excuse they need to begin managing lifestyles beyond measure. The line they have already crossed will no longer even be in sight. Free will is no longer an option. Any choice in life that might lead to a medical bill or complications in the future are no longer allowed as costs.

Am I wrong?

8/02/2008 1:59 PM  

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