A news report out of Washington last week caused us to shake our heads in wonderment. It seems Tommy Thompson’s Department of Health and Human Services started handing out grants to cities and states to help those governments educate specific communities about the dangers of obesity and what folks can do to change to healthier habits.
According to the report, the grant program will become the “government’s centerpiece in the obesity fight.” The grants, totaling $13.6 million, are going out to about a dozen communities this year to help them target specific problems in their areas.
Although this area-specific approach is the type of program we can usually get behind, we must ask why the government must get involved at all, and worry about possible implications for the future.
It’s not that we don’t believe Americans could stand to shed a few pounds. That’s beside the point. The reason for our concern is that this seems like yet another government foray into an area in which it has no business.
Obesity in America is a problem, perhaps even an epidemic, but it’s not something over which the individual has no control. Past health crises in this country, such as polio, were rightly a concern for the massive power and resources of government. They required resources not readily available to individuals. That’s not true with obesity.
There are many products and programs available to help folks deal with a weight problem. Food labeling laws put nutrition information into the hands of consumers so they can make informed choices about the food they eat. Many restaurants have similar information available for the asking; if they don’t, and enough people indicate an interest, it would be in restaurants’ best interests to make it available.
The other side of the equation in fighting obesity is exercise. It’s not necessary to spend a small fortune on special equipment or gym memberships. For most people, the only equipment they need can be found at the end of their legs — their feet.
A walk first thing in the morning or after dinner can be beneficial and is readily available to nearly everyone.
Except for the few with medical conditions that affect body weight, most Americans’ fitness levels are the result of choices they have made. The solution to the problem is having them make better choices. Throwing more tax dollars at the problem will change very little except the size and scope of government involvement in our lives.