It's no secret that the United States is overweight. Though the U.S. was recently topped by Mexico as the "most obese" nation, the problem of our waistline has been growing for years. Obesity and its effects are partly responsible for rising health care costs in the U.S., which spends the most on health care per capita. Reducing obesity would lower health care costs in the long run as the number of hospital admissions would drop and many chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease would be prevented.
But how, in a culture of fad diets and "get ripped quick" programs that consistently preach the value of skinniness, can citizens control of their weight? The obesity epidemic has grown into a public health issue, particularly as more and more Americans prove they are helplessness in the face of fast food advertising, starting at an increasingly young age.
Consider how America imposes restrictions on cigarettes. One must be 18 years old to purchase them, most states regulate where people can smoke, and raise the price of cigarettes by imposing "sin taxes." These taxes passively discourage tobacco use; citizens are still free to buy cigarettes in whatever quantity they want, but the increasingly prohibitive cost serves as a substantial deterrent.
In the same way that America discourages cigarette smoking, it can mitigate its obesity problem. It can do this through imposing portion controls at restaurants, particularly fast food establishments. Despite the cries of civil liberty infringement, portion controls act exactly like sin taxes as they are hardly a comprehensive ban. Citizens could hypothetically get as much food as they want by ordering more or making it at home, but this would hit them harder in the wallet.
Some states have actively taken steps to resist portion controls or other public health measures. Mississippi, for example, has the nation's highest obesity rate at 34.9% and recently passed a so-called "Anti-Bloomberg Law" stating that citizens' portions of food or beverages could not be limited by any local or municipal ordinances. In his signing statement, Governor Phil Bryant noted, "It simply is not the role of the government to micro-regulate citizens' dietary decisions ... the responsibility for one's personal health depends on individual choices about a proper diet and appropriate exercise."
The government, however, has a vested interest in maintaining a healthy population as one of the biggest health care providers in the nation. Obesity is a significant negative externality as those who get sick drive up the cost of medical care for others, particularly ithose without insurance.
Despite the terrifying implications of increased obesity, there is surprisingly little appetite among the general public for laws regulating portion sizes. Sixty-nine percent of Americans surveyed oppose such limits. However, poll questions tend to focus on the "right" to consume large quantities of food rather than food's detrimental effects on public health.
While citizens do have a right to eat large amounts of unhealthy food, the government has the right to regulate this as it sees fit, especially as obesity continues to be a significant public health issue that imperils our nation's healthcare system. The motives behind these regulations are not to add layers of red tape. Rather, they are set to build a healthier population, reduce the number of hospital visits, and cut the overall cost of healthcare. For lawmakers, particularly those like Gov. Bryant whose states have massive medical expenses due to high incidences of cardiovascular disease, passing a law to limit these portions is a responsible way to enhance his constituents' quality of life.