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CLT&G Update
Thursday, November 5, 1998

Food Police Join Lifestyle Gestapo

"If 20 years ago somebody had said, 'I predict that states will recover the health care costs from the tobacco industry for deaths; I predict that an icon of the smoking advertising, Joe Camel, would be banned from billboards,' people would have said, 'Oh that's horrible government intrusion' What is now taken for granted, 20 years ago would have been thought of as impossible."

- Kelly Brownell, director
Center for Eating and Weight Disorders

It has started, as predicted -- and as usual, with another alleged new "national crisis." This is how the seed is always planted, whether it's smoking bans, gun-control or the latest government control-freak cause-de-jour. And this current whacko knows well how the game is played, and the value of incremental erosion and patience!

Before you scoff and say, "it'll never happen," stop, read his observation (above), and ask yourself if he isn't 100 percent historically accurate and doesn't know exactly where he's taking this absurdity.

Note that the best his opposition can come up with is "It is extraordinarily impractical," or "creating such a tax would be very complicated" -- not that it is downright un-American or unconstitutional, or even just plain stupid and wrong.

That's because the opposition knows that it can very easily happen -- and likely will, eventually -- in what used to be called "The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave," but has become the land of risk-free and the home of invertebrates.

To paraphrase Rev. Martin Niemoeller on the Nazis, "First they came for the smokers, but I wasn't a smoker, so I did not object; then they came for the gun-owners, but I was not a gun-owner, so I did not object; then they came for the overweight . . ."

Chip Ford --

The Associated Press
Tuesday, November 3, 1998

Yale professor proposes regulating fatty foods

like cigarettes

By Brigitte Greenberg

New Haven, Conn. -- Yale University professor Kelly Brownell sees Ronald McDonald on television on Saturday mornings. But he thinks Joe Camel, and the cartoon character's influence on children and smoking.

Considering the amount of fat in hamburgers and french fries, Brownell believes Ronald McDonald causes nearly as many deaths each year as cigarettes.

The director of the Center for Eating and Weight Disorders at Yale, Brownell is writing a book promoting a novel concept: Fat in foods should be regulated by the government, just as the Clinton administration wants to regulate the nicotine in tobacco.

"We're facing what I believe is a national crisis," said Brownell, a professor of psychology, epidemiology and public health. "The contribution of diet to poor health in America is staggering. It's an epidemic."

Brownell believes the government should subsidize the sale of healthy food, increase the cost of non-nutritional foods through taxes and regulate food advertising to discourage unhealthy practices.

In other words, that Twinkie's going to cost you.

His book is not due out for at least a year, but already Brownell's proposals have produced virulent reactions from conservatives and food industry executives. [soon to be derogatively labeled "Big Food," like "Big Tobacco," I predict -- Chip]

"It is extraordinarily impractical," said J.D. Foster, executive director and chief economist of the Tax Foundation, a business-backed think tank in Washington.

"You would have to create an index of healthy and unhealthy foods," Foster said. "Can you imagine if we went down that road? It would almost be funny."

Nevertheless, that is precisely what Brownell proposes.

"If 20 years ago somebody had said, 'I predict that states will recover the health care costs from the tobacco industry for deaths; I predict that an icon of the smoking advertising, Joe Camel, would be banned from billboards,' people would have said, 'Oh that's horrible government intrusion,'" Brownell said.

"What is now taken for granted, 20 years ago would have been thought of as impossible," he said.

The federal government estimates that more than 400,000 Americans die each year due to smoking-related diseases. About 300,000 Americans die each year from illnesses related to obesity, poor diet and a lack of exercise.

Human biology aside, Brownell believes the number of overweight Americans is growing because of a "toxic food environment" in which high-calorie, high-fat foods are pushed by a pervasive fast-food industry.

Advertising is much to blame, he said, noting that terms like 'supersize' and 'extra value meal' have become a part of the American vernacular.

"If you go to the average 5- or 6- or 7-year old in the United States and you ask what it means to 'supersize,' just about all of them will tell you," he said. "The average American recognizes 'supersize' as a verb."

A spokesman for McDonald's in Oak Brook, Ill., said Brownell's comparison of the company's trademark clown to Joe Camel was "ludicrous."

"Ronald appeals to young children, no question, but I think young children ... typically come to McDonald's with parents or guardians to help them make appropriate dining choices," said spokeswoman Julie Cleary.

Unlike Joe Camel, Ronald McDonald also represents a children's charity -- Ronald McDonald House -- which provides temporary homes for families with youngsters who require medical attention at nearby hospitals.

Brownell admits that his comparison of the food industry to tobacco producers is "not a perfect parallel."

"You have to eat. You don't have to smoke. And theoretically, people could walk into a McDonald's and order the salad," he said.

But advertising for non-nutritious foods is so widespread that fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods don't stand a chance, Brownell said.

He doesn't like the pork industry's claim to be "The other white meat," either.

"The implication is that pork is like chicken and therefore you should eat more of it," he said. "That was a public relations coup that did a lot for the sale of pork, but is it good?" The pork industry is better off, but the American people are not."

Not so, said Al Tank, chief executive officer of the National Pork Producers Council in Washington. Since the advertising campaign was launched in 1986, the port industry has cut fat content by 31 percent, cut calories by 14 percent and cholesterol by 12 percent, Tank said.

"Many cuts of pork have less fat than skinless chicken. The pork industry has put its money where its mouth is," said Tank, whose organization represents 85,000 pork producers in 44 states.

Foster said taxes can decrease demand for products. But he is critical of using them in such a manner.

"There's a certain, superficial logic to it, but if anything, it really highlights how ludicrous it is to modify people's behavior as if the federal government really knows what's best," Foster said.

Even Michael F. Jacobsen, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based consumer group that promotes healthful eating, questioned who would decide what foods are healthy.

Besides, Jacobsen said, Brownell's proposals don't have a chance in a Republican-controlled Congress.

"I think his basic idea of taxing junk foods and using the revenues for some health purpose makes eminent sense, but it's dead on arrival," Jacobson said. "The industries that would be taxed would fight tooth-and-nail, and creating such a tax would be very complicated.

Yet as fast-food restaurants pop up on ever corner and gas stations double as mini-marts, Brownell insists radical action is warranted.

"McDonald's is trumpeting the fact that it has served billions and billions of people fatty food," he said. "Now, I have to ask, 'Are we happy about that?' And as the billion and billions becomes trillions and trillions, will we be better off?"

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