Originally created 03/27/06

Pigging out on healthy food



Citing America's ever-widening problem of obesity, including among children, nutrition do-gooders and predatory lawyers are out to bring down the food industry, particularly junk food and fast-food franchises.

What has the food reformers up in arms are the supersized portions, humongous sugar-rich soda drinks and the proliferation of ice cream, cake and pie goodies - and the billions of dollars spent on marketing and selling these diabetes-inducing products.

The appeals - not only to gluttonously consume unhealthy foods but to eschew healthy eating habits - have prompted lawsuits and legislation designed to curb or penalize advertising, pull junk foods and drinks from the schools and boost taxes on those in the grocery stores.

Plaintiff lawyers even want to go after Big Food's big bucks like they did Big Tobacco's. But we don't think it will work. Or that it's fair.

The food industry never lied about the effects their unhealthy products have on people, like the tobacco firms did. Food marketers talked up their products' great taste, which was true enough; they never made phony claims about health benefits - unless they were actually selling healthy foods that had real health benefits.

Every legal product should be allowed to advertise as long as it doesn't make claims that aren't true. Nor should it be a crime to sell things to people who may not need them - and that includes food. The problem with predatory lawyers and food fascists is that they put the stress on trying to regulate what people eat instead of educating them on what they should eat.

The food industry gets the difference. Smart marketers don't try to lead the public; they follow it by spotting early trends. The food industry emerged in the wake of the Depression and World War II, when malnutrition was a national problem. Big food and big portions answered that need.

But now, as health becomes a national issue, the public is demanding to know more about the health value of the food they eat. And the industry is responding, sometimes on its own and sometimes via legislation. But the point is that more health food is being sold in supermarkets and restaurants - including fast-food franchises - than ever before. And food is being sold with a lot more nutritional information on it than used to be the case.

In short, the trend is toward more healthy food and eating habits. Not everyone will make the right choices. But that's OK, because the essence of freedom is to be able to do and say things that other people don't approve of.

Even so, the answer to bad eating habits isn't more lawsuits or legislation - it's more information so consumers can make the right choices. Given accurate information, most people will.