Government to Spend Billions Encouraging 30 Minute Walks?

With debate about how to curtail runaway federal debt at a fever pitch, politicians on both sides of the aisle have increasingly focused on eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse. Yet the federal government directed a combined sum of $1.15 billion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Affordable Care Act to a misguided program that is poised to thoughtlessly waste billions of taxpayer dollars: Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW).

Overseen by the Center for Disease Control, CPPW is “focused on preventing chronic disease by producing sustainable, positive and improved health outcomes.” Short of its lofty-sounding goals, CPPW does not typically fund diagnosis or treatment. Nor does CPPW promote groundbreaking research to combat the devastating effects of diseases like cancer and AIDS. The CPPW instead acts as a slush fund to combat obesity and smoking.

Even this goal belies what CPPW money is actually being used for. CPPW money helped establish “the Walking Workbus program” in Kauai, Hawaii to combat obesity. The Walking Workbus program “encourages people to get together one day a week for a 2-mile walk – approximately 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity.” 

Regardless of the government’s fiscal situation, it is indefensible to spend taxpayer money attempting to persuade people to take an occasional walk through their paradise-like, vacation-destination hometown. Such thoughtless spending is particularly defenseless while federal entitlement programs are suffering trillions in unfunded liabilities and the federal debt spirals out of control.

CPPW also supports efforts in Portland, Maine to reduce obesity by paying for “a registered dietician to analyze menus and create new lower calorie options, as well as assisting restaurants to have new menus with nutritional information.” The effort to change menus is especially misguided. Many restaurants are a part of large companies that use the same recipes at every location to ensure brand recognition. The program does nothing to account for the reality that when faced with different menu choices, many patrons will simply take their business elsewhere. Even worse, the entire initiative relies on the dubious assumption that obese people eat enough unhealthy meals at participating restaurants for a simple menu change to alter patrons’ body types.

Another way CPPW seeks to “reduce risk factors and prevent/delay chronic disease and promote wellness in both children and adults” is by directing people to advisory websites such as fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov. These websites continue to enjoy federal support despite President Barack Obama’s June 2011 announcement that hundreds of federally supported websites would be eliminated as a part of an effort to curtail “ridiculous practices” that lead to “pointless waste and stupid spending that does not benefit anybody.” Some of the pointless websites have been taken down. Yet fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov remains, even though taxpayers hardly need the government to join doctors and advertisers in emphasizing that fruit and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet.

CPPW also funds anti-smoking campaigns. Though smoking tobacco is widely known to have negative health effects, the government must always consider how its anti-smoking efforts impact the personal freedom that is ensured by the U.S. Constitution. CPPW’s anti-smoking efforts went too far by advocating a blanket ban on smoking in apartments, townhouses, and condominiums in Santa Clara County, California. The government should not be telling taxpayers whether or not they can smoke in their own homes.

CPPW is a deeply misguided program that has given rise to haphazard spending that has no practical hope of serving CPPW’s stated goals. Other CPPW efforts unconstitutionally restrict the very freedom that is supposed to define the United States. The government’s decision to continue spending money on such profoundly flawed and outright harmful programs shows that Congress and the president have fallen asleep at the wheel in their drive to ease America’s worsening financial plight. 

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons