Originally created 06/12/06

Nanny state can't force healthy eating



If the nanny state has its way, you could soon be paying higher prices for smaller portions at your favorite restaurants. The Food and Drug Administration - understandably concerned about the nation's ever-expanding waistlines and the fact that more Americans than ever are eating out, mostly at greasy-spoon fast-food franchises - has issued a number of recommendations for restaurants to follow.

Topping the list is to cut back on portion sizes. Strike those double and triple cheeseburgers from the menu, along with super-sized fries.

Another suggestion is to stop providing diners with take-home boxes for food not eaten at the restaurant. What sense does this make? Isn't eating only half the meal at the restaurant and taking the rest home for lunch or dinner the next day better than eating it all at once? Take-home boxes should be encouraged, not discouraged.

The FDA also wants eateries' marketing to stress lower-calorie foods, healthy fruits and vegetables, healthy cooking techniques and more calorie and nutrition information.

As suggestions, these are fine ideas - as long as they stay in the realm of suggestions. But when nanny-state recommendations are ignored - as we suspect much of the FDA's agenda will be - then the nanny can become overly insistent, and seek to turn suggestions into mandates. Health-food fanatics already are urging the government to ban all-you-can-eat buffets.

What makes for healthy eating can make for very unhealthy politics. We don't want the government telling restaurants how to run their business. That task belongs to consumers.

If consumers like the FDA recommendations, then they should tell the restaurateurs. Soon enough they'll see the changes on the menu. Some of the nutritional information and menu options the FDA is pushing are already being provided at some restaurants, including fast foods. Smaller portions might sell very well, too, if they also cost less. Why not make them an option? Increased volume might make up for the smaller price.

But the point is, these are decisions that should be made by merchants, not the government. Dining establishments are in business to please diners, not FDA bureaucrats. Convince consumers to improve their eating habits, and it will be reflected on menus.

But the nation's obesity problem cannot be solved by government or restaurateurs, or even avaricious lawyers trying to set policy via litigation. It can be done only by people taking responsibility for their and their children's eating habits.