December 20, 2002 -- "Drop the candy cane, step away from the punch bowl." Is that the order we’ll hear some day from armed food cops trying to prevent us from committing holiday health crimes against ourselves? Before you emit a "Ho ho ho" of derision, take a sip of your eggnog (360 calories per cup) and consider the ghost of Christmas future that might haunt us if we’re not careful.
Here’s how the criminalization of Christmas goodies might come about. The first contributing element is the "war on fat." Some groups and agencies claim that 65 percent of Americans are overweight and 30 percent are obese. While many Americans do have serious weight problems, by the questionable standard used to generate these stats, athletes like Barry Bonds and Michael Jordan should go on diets. It’s also alleged that 300,000 die each year from weight-related problems. Never mind that the New England Journal of Medicine stated, "that figure is by no means well established. Not only is it derived from weak or incomplete data, but it is also called into question by the methodologic difficulties."
Still we see activists today pushing politicians to place high taxes on so-called "junk" food, ban soft drink and snack machines, and even bar cars from certain parts of cities to force people to walk more.
Some groups and agencies claim that 65 percent of Americans are overweight and 30 percent are obese.
Further, we see the same ambulance-chasing lawyers who lined their own pockets with billions of dollars from the tobacco industry, representing people who knew about the hazards of smoking but took the risk anyway, now churning out lawsuits against food providers in the name of people who refuse to take responsibility for their own overeating. For example, 300 lb. Caesar Barber who suffered several heart attacks and ignored his doctor’s advise to lay off the lard, is suing McDonalds rather exercising some self-control. We find moms who failed to regulate their kid’s diets suing the Golden Arches because their kids got fat; one unfortunate 13 year old tipped the scale at 278 lbs. Are these parents really so stupid as not to know the affects of such a diet? No! Usually they just want to blame others for their own negligence.
Added to this jihad against fat is a second element that could send the gingerbread man packing. We might argue that our waistlines are none of the government’s business. But government more and more pays the medical bills – with our tax dollars to be sure -- and thus maintains that it is its business whether we make ourselves sick by smoking or overeating.
To hold down the costs of Medicare and other programs, government has a strong incentive to treat us like little children and force us to eat spinach rather than cheese fries. This collectivist premise – that all of our choices affect everyone else and thus everyone else has a right to control our choices – puts us at the mercy of paternalistic governments bent on micromanaging our lives.
In light of this premise and of the allegation that hundreds of thousands of people die both from smoking and from bad diets and lack of exercise, we might ask, "Will we reach the day when we’re limited to two Big Macs a month; when the potato chips are kept behind the counter and not sold to anyone under 18; and when there’s a waiting period to purchase Twinkies so they can check our medical records?"
This could come to pass. This leads to the third element that could kill the sugarplum fairy: the database that the federal government is accumulating on us all. Specifically, under their Newspeak-name, new "medical privacy" rules to facilitate claims processing allow the federal government to use any medical records that can be transmitted electronically, i.e., almost all of them, pretty much as it wants without our permission.
But if store clerks can check our IDs before we buy beer, if merchants must check for felonies before selling us a gun, if police can run our tags to check for outstanding arrest warrants, will the food fascists someday require every Dominos wishing to avoid lawsuits to check a database for our cholesterol levels to see if we’re healthy enough to handle a large pepperoni? Will the restaurant hosting a holiday dinner be required to look up our body mass indices to determine whether HHS rules allow us to have the roast lamb with mint jelly or confine us to the celery and carrot platter?
More important than losing fat is not losing our freedom. If we want future New Years to be happy, we must not only jog off our extra pounds but also cut back the government’s diet for power.
Edward Hudgins writes on political and social issues. He is the editor of Freedom to Trade: Refuting the New Protectionism, Space: The Free Market Frontier, and two books on postal service privatization. His latest collection is entitled An Objectivist Secular Reader. He is director of advocacy for The Atlas Society.