Mississippi legislators have taken a stand against “Bloomberg-style government intervention” and have passed a bill that would prevent local lawmakers from regulating what individuals can and cannot eat. The bill now heads to the governor's desk.
Tipping the scales for six straight years, Mississippi is the fattest state in America according to U.S. News and World Report. Known for classic southern dishes such as fried fish, collard greens, and Mississippi Mud Pie, the “anti-Bloomberg” bill rejoices in the fact that eating habits are a personal responsibility and not a public health concern.
New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is the most recent politician to combat obesity rates through legislation when his board of health banned the sale of sugary beverages over 16 ounces.
Americans are known for having big portions, big appetites, and big waistlines. With nearly 70% of Americans overweight or obese, Bloomberg was attempting to crack down on a prime culprit. However, just hours before the ban was set to take effect, a Manhattan judge ruled the ban “arbitrary and capricious,” and struck down the law.
San Francisco became the first major city to pass controversial legislation targeted at reducing the rate of obesity. The legislation, which took effect in 2011, bans toys from kid’s meals at fast-food restaurants. Although McDonald’s skirted the law by charging a nominal fee of 10 cents for every toy, banning toys from “happy-meals” was meant to help parents and children make healthier decisions. Experts suggest that by eliminating the toy from “happy meals,” parents will be less pressured to eat at fast-food chains.
However, despite attempts by the city to legislate healthier eating, San Franciscans remain overweight. The U.S. Coast Guard even issued new standards in 2012, reducing the carrying capacity of ferries and other marine vessels operating around the Bay Area. The Coast Guard reported the change was due to an increase in the average weight of passengers from 160 to 185 pounds.
The New York and San Francisco laws have ignited a national debate over whether the government has the right to regulate an individual’s eating habits by banning certain choices. Critics argue the bills endorse a nanny state culture whereby the government supplants the individual's right to make their own decisions. In doing so, the bills establishes a scary precedent, and slippery slope toward additional government intrusion into an individual’s right to make decisions on other personal matters.
And while eliminating vending machines and soda from public schools may be within the power of the government, regulating the portions and food selections of private individuals is not the duty of the government. If the government wants to win the fight against obesity, it should allow health insurance companies to base premiums on Body Mass IndexMI.
Similar to how driving behavior affects auto premiums, a person’s weight and lifestyle should impact health insurance rates (not only smoking). Studies indicate that by 2018 the financial burden of being overweight or obese will be $344 billion or 21 percent of total health care expenditures. Requiring the 70% of overweight and obese Americans to pay their share of health insurance forces individuals to take responsibility for their lifestyle choices without punishing the 30% with healthy weights.