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Hearing on "The Supersizing of America"

In the written testimony reproduced here, the Center states Congress cannot and should not start down the road of food regulation or punishment through taxation.

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Written Testimony of
Marshall Manson
Vice President of Public Affairs, Center for Individual Freedom
House Government Reform Committee
Hearing on "The Supersizing of America"

June 3, 2004

Chairman Davis, Congressman Waxman, members of the Committee on Government Reform:

Given the recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention demonstrating that obesity and diseases caused by obesity are now leading killers in the United States, there can be no question that obesity is and ought to be a major health concern for all Americans.

The central questions now are: whether and if so how the federal government should respond.

Liberal interest groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest would like to use the CDC findings to further their extreme agenda and force increased federal regulation of our food choices. CSPI and similar groups have led a long and frequently disingenuous campaign to convince Americans to eschew fat, sugar, meat, and more. At the same time, they have undertaken an on-going lobbying effort aimed at eliciting tough government regulation of food, diet, and consumer choice.

With increased attention focused on obesity and other nutritional concerns, CSPI and similar groups now see an opportunity to move their agenda forward. However, their proposals reveal an underlying belief that Americans cannot make responsible choices about what to eat and drink. For example, in recent years CSPI and similar groups have pushed such radical regulatory steps as a new federal tax on junk food, sodas, and other snacks (the so-called "Twinkie tax"), granting the USDA complete authority to regulate all foods in schools nationwide with an eye toward banning sodas, cookies, candy and other snacks, and federally mandated labeling of restaurant menus with detailed nutrition information.

CSPI and other groups seem to prefer that Americans eat a federally-mandated diet of lettuce, skinned apples, carrot sticks, and soy-milk. Over the years, based on an abundance of questionable studies and unsupported assertions, they have identified dozens of foods that they claim should be eliminated or severely restricted from our diets. For example, spaghetti and meatballs, eggplant parmigiana, ham sandwiches, corned beef, pork chops, coffee, enchiladas, gyro sandwiches, and even luncheon meats. Heaven forbid you enjoy Chinese takeout. CSPI has railed against mu shu pork, General Tso’s chicken, lo mein, kung pao chicken, sweet and sour pork, and Chinese restaurants, in general. CSPI has even warned against eating the most basic of American staples — apple pie.

Embracing this agenda is the wrong approach. Recently, the Center for Individual Freedom dubbed CSPI’s proposal for a complete federal takeover of school food choices "legislative lunacy." To go well beyond that proposal and insert the federal government far into Americans’ food choices would constitute outright regulatory madness.

What role should the federal government have in combating obesity?

First, we must recognize that there is no single cure-all for obese Americans. There are literally hundreds of causes of obesity, and there are as many solutions as there are causes. However, it’s important to note that in and of themselves, hamburgers, hotdogs, sodas, candy, white bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, and even apple pie don’t cause obesity. Instead, with the exception of medical conditions, obesity most often results from individuals eating too much while exercising too little.

Nevertheless, there are limited steps that the government can take in a general campaign against obesity. For example, the federal government can continue and enhance its efforts to encourage responsible decision-making, promote increased exercise, and issue balanced dietary recommendations based on careful, unbiased science.

But the operative word in the preceding statement is "limited." We must recognize that the federal government cannot and should not embark on a massive new regulatory scheme designed to make us all slimmer and trimmer.

First, there are countless practical problems. Congress cannot possibly be expected to legislate effectively against obesity. There are too many causes and too many problems for an omnibus Congressional solution. Nor is it feasible for Congress to instruct a federal regulatory authority to fight obesity through rule-making. Further, scientific understanding of human nutrition, diet needs, and the causes of obesity improves constantly. The government is ill-equipped to understand and integrate these advances into its legislation or regulation.

Second, and more importantly, the federal government shouldn’t be in the business of telling Americans what and what not to eat and drink. Our democracy is founded on the idea that individuals have basic freedoms. Among these, certainly, is the right to choose what we put on our plates and in our goblets. But the anti-food extremists like CSPI would gladly take away that freedom and mandate our diet in order to save us from ourselves. It is time for these zealous anti-food advocates to understand that it is not the federal government’s job to save us from ourselves by making our choices for us.

Obesity has been labeled a crisis in America. And such labels all too frequently spur a Congressional impulse to "don’t just sit there, do something." In this case, it’s incumbent on Congress to resist this impulse. Let Americans continue to make free choices about what to eat and drink. Certainly, the federal government can and should continue to encourage us to make informed choices. Certainly, the federal government can and should help us understand what constitutes a balanced diet. And certainly, the federal government can and should help us sift through the myriad of scientific (and unscientific) information about the right combinations of diet and exercise. The government can and should take a more aggressive role in regulating the advertising and sale of diet schemes that fraudulently promise what they cannot deliver, often with disastrous health consequences.

But Congress cannot and should not start down the road of food regulation or punishment through taxation. In the end, Americans must make good choices and be responsible for their actions. Were it otherwise, we would not be truly free.

The Center for Individual Freedom ( is a constitutional advocacy organization dedicated to protecting individual freedom and individual rights.

[Posted June 3, 2004]

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