NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Attack of the Food Police

November 9, 2010

Last week, the San Francisco board of supervisors voted to hose the Happy Meal.  The impulse to overrule nutritional choices exists elsewhere too.  In his last two budgets, New York's Democratic Gov. David Paterson proposed a tax on soda, says Reason magazine.

As it happens, soda taxes may affect only the people who don't need affecting.  California Polytechnic State University economists Michael Marlow and Alden Shiers, writing in Regulation magazine, noted data showing that "taxes on alcohol consumption significantly lower drinking by light drinkers, but not heavy drinkers."  One study found that a 58 percent tax on soda would "drop the average body mass by only 0.16 points" -- on a scale of 30.

Restrictions on fatty food are no more promising.  

  • Suppose a 5-year-old has a Happy Meal every week (which is how often new toys appear).
  • Economist Michael Anderson of the University of California at Berkeley says that while a child who dines on fast food may get a couple of hundred extra calories, that's not much compared to the 11,000 calories she is likely to eat in a week.

Besides, people who are diverted from the Golden Arches have plenty of other cheap, tasty, artery-clogging options.  "If they don't eat at McDonald's, are they going to go home and eat broccoli and brown rice?" asks Anderson.

The stubborn fact is that people who are intent on doing things that expand their dimensions to an unhealthy degree can always find ways to do so, says Reason.

Source: Steve Chapman, "Attack of the Food Police," Reason magazine, November 8, 2010.

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