100,000-149,999 SparkPoints 128,595

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Obesity

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Junk food is deliberated engineered to generate addiction: Michael Moss's new book is making that argument pretty persuasively.

Addiction to junk foods generates a host of serious health and social problems.

The costs of those health and social problems is borne by governments through heightened demand for various government-funded services.

Does that mean it's it time for governments to ban junk food?

Toronto Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente riffs on that topic today:


Of course from a Canadian perspective there might be more justification for such a ban. After all, medical costs here are funded by the government, not by individuals or their privately purchased insurance. Which means of course that taxpayers fund medical costs collectively. And medical costs are a tremendous drain on tax revenues.

I know every time I go to the hospital, I'm struck by the very high percentage of people there seeking medical services who are obese. Cancer, diabetes, heart problems, hip and knee replacement surgeries . . . it's endless. Medical services are just one manifestation. Grossly obese persons often lose mobility, are unable to work because of health issues, require welfare and subsidized housing and transportation . . . and more mental health care services. There is a significant correlation between obesity and marriage breakdown, with all the social costs for court systems and the emotional costs for children and the superadded requirement for mental health counselling.

But still, a ban on junk foods sounds harsh. Why can't I choose to eat potato chips if I like 'em? If I choose 'em?

It helps to remember that junk foods are not meant to foster freedom. They're inspired by a desire for unlimited profits: "free" enterprise run rampant. Junk foods are deliberately engineered to overcome free will, if we presume that free will means rational decision making. If we assume free will is making decisions in our own best interests.

So if governments banned junk foods, would that ban really interfere with genuine freedom of choice? Or is it meaningless to talk about freedom of choice in the context of addiction, which effectively high jacks free will anyhow?

The purpose of free choice has to be the pursuit of happiness, not obesity. And very few if any people who experience obesity are happy about achieving that condition, with all of the related consequences.

The Canadian constitution commits us to a different set of political ideals: not "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" but "peace, order and good government". Would we have a more peaceful and orderly society with a ban on junk foods? Would we have better government if we could redirect some of the resources now expended on the high medical costs which are the consequences of obesity, triggered by addictive consumption of junk foods, to other and more socially beneficial purposes?

However, it's pretty clear that governments haven't been very successful in banning other substances which produce addiction and interfere with free will. In the Prohibition era, alcohol was blatantly bootlegged. Non-prescription drugs are now generating enormous underworld profits and related crime. Here in Canada governments have imposed huge taxes on alcohol and tobacco to offset some of the social costs generated by their excessive usage and to discourage excessive usage by pricing them out of reach.

So how's that working? I dunno. I don't have the answers.

If potato chips and other addiction-engineered junk foods were highly taxed, with the taxes directed towards associated social and medical costs, would those taxes discourage excessive consumption of junk food even without an outright ban? If people could buy a quart of fresh raspberries for much less than the cost of a large bag of potato chips, would they buy the raspberries? How high would the price of those potato chips have to be to create this effect: $50 a bag?

No answers here. Just a bunch more questions.

Because the fact would remain: the raspberries weren't "engineered" to hit on our biological pleasure centres associated with the consumption of sugar, fat and salt. The potato chips were. And I'm betting that many people of very modest means would continue to buy the potato chips . . . just like many people continue to find a way to get oxycodone. Or beer. Even rubbing alcohol.

At this point, however, I'm pretty sure that I will never eat another potato chip without reminding myself: this is a substance deliberately designed to overcome my free will. My self control. My ability to choose. One of the essential qualities which makes me a human being. I hope I'll pause and consider that the potato chip exacts a very high price for me personally, in loss of human dignity. Especially when I can't stop eating 'em.

Maybe next time, when I remind myself of all this, that potato chip will stop tasting so irresistible!! Maybe instead of reflecting upon "brand extension" of plain potato chips to cheddar chips and BBQ chips and salt'n vinegar chips and all the other myriad flavours ("Which one can I try next?"), I'll be thinking of a different kind of brand extension.

I'm exposing myself to addiction.

Which means this is a "lost of freedom" chip. Yeah. this potato chip would be exactly what "loss of human dignity" tastes like!


Michael Moss himself, in this New York Times interview, seems to agree that government regulation of the food industry is the only method of combatting manufacture of addictive foods: thanks, DDORN, for pointing this article out to me:

Share This Post With Others
Member Comments About This Blog Post
  • KANOE10
    Interesting questions. I am not sure of the answers. Did soda consumption go down in New York because they banned large sized cups? People seem to find ways to continue their addictions. Yet maybe if the government stepped in and reformed the food industry to be more healthy, that might help. Taxing people gets burdensome and where would we stop? Thanks for the articles and a great blog.
    1883 days ago
    I like your questions. Wish I had the answers. I agree that every time I eat a "super pallatable food" I'm going to remind myself that it was engineered to take away my free will. Thanks for that suggestion. -Marsha

    1884 days ago
    Absolutely the government should step in! It already intercedes on the behalf of public welfare regarding other "vices": alcohol, gambling, tobacco. Certainly it hasn't STOPPED the problems arising from those issues...but just imagine how monumental these problems would be if the limitations and constraints WEREN'T in place...!

    I say over and over: FUGGEDABOUT freedom of choice! Bazillions of advertising dollars, government subsidy dollars (into corn, soy, beef, pork, chicken) and scientific research is already in place to ensure that we *FREELY* make the least possible healthy choice for ourselves.

    We collectively need to make a persistently loud ROAR of protest and demand our leaders invest in our health and wellness by investing in subsidies promoting the growth, prevalence and ease of accessibility to the FREGGIES we know to make such a crucial enhancement to our health and wellness!

    If we roll over to the special interests of Big Ag, Big Food, etc....so too will our leaders.

    1884 days ago
    Fascinating blog, particularly in light of the gun debate.
    I wonder if the emoticon prohibition on emoticon is an example of the failure of 'banning', but I guess there were no 'healthy' substitutes...

    Here's to knowing our addictions and not exposing ourselves to them!
    1884 days ago
    I listened to his interview on "Fresh Air" yesterday on National Public Radio. He said Kraft Foods tried to cut down on added salt, sugar, and fat in foods and lost revenue. Then they felt they had to add it back in. He said members of the Kraft team also agreed that government limits would be necessary.

    I agree with a lot of what you've said. I too am horrified when I think of the societal cost of obesity. I agree that many morbidly obese people are unable to work so in addition to the health care costs are now on the public dole. And when they're in the grocery store, their mobility carts are often filled with the same crap that got them fat to begin with. emoticon

    Where does it end?
    1884 days ago
  • NANCY-
    What Mr. Moss is doing is educating the public... If more was spent on nutritional education there would be less health issues.

    I love this NY PSA and think if there were more like it it would help both kids and adults make better choices.
    1884 days ago
    I love your blogs.

    Your paragraphs about dignity and loss of freedom give me great insight. You are helping me tell myself the truth about those substances!
    1884 days ago
    Education, education, education, and you are doing your bit. Thank you.
    1884 days ago
    That was a really informative blog. The subject, of course, raises too many questions and lots of other discussion topics. One thing I'd like to add is the importance of education. I don't know what's happening in Canada but in our schools there's little to none information on different kinds of food and their impact on our health. Maybe if we had been "brainwashed" since our childhood about the great benefits of fruit on our health and life expectancy, we would have more possibilities of choosing the raspberries and not the chips. Of course the chips would still be engineered to bend our free will but maybe our defense system would be much stronger. Banning? I think the effectiveness of such a measure would depend on the country and the way the citizens have learned to live and their definition of "freedom". Not a measure I would agree to, to be honest.
    Just my thoughts. Thank you for all the food for thought!!

    1884 days ago
    It's a fine line between the government protecting the citizens, and Big Brother banning anything fun.

    Don't know what to do about it, but it's a very fine line.
    1884 days ago
  • PHOENIX1949
    I enjoy your thought-provoking blogs.
    1884 days ago
  • _LINDA
    Unfortunately, the government is condoning addictions by allowing them. Tobacco is a proven killer and yet it is allowed. It would be the easiest to get rid of as its not necessary for anything. Unfortunately, alcohol has other uses such as antiseptic and such so there would always be some way a person could get there hands on it legally. Desperate addicts were drinking mouthwash and such around here. Ludicrous. They need to get rid of the most dangerous addictions first if anything. There needs to be more addictions counseling available and treatment centers.
    Just as it appears the manufacturers of death sticks have some kind of hold over the government to allow their product, I am sure the junk food industry also has too much influence as well. Its called millions of addicts and their rights to do what they please with their bodies. Its a lose lose situation. You can only take care of yourself, there is not much you can do about other's free will.
    Is there a tobacco, alcohol and junk food free colony I could go join??
    1885 days ago
    I'd really like to see healthy fruits and vegetables subsidized to the extent that meat, dairy and commodity grains (and so on) are. I understand why they aren't -- the other things are more in the way of staple/famine foods, and agricultural subsidies were originally designed in part to help offset the risk of famine. But I wish I could see it anyway.

    Junk food bans are for the most part not a good idea (though I want them out out out of schools/school vending machines, argh that drives me crazy).
    1885 days ago
    Wow that was deep but a lot of information. Thanks
    1885 days ago
  • AMR300
    The NY times just posted a great article about this- I agree with you- something needs to change regarding how companies can continue to sell items like this that are taking our countries broke. Great blog!
    1885 days ago
  • Add Your Comment to the Blog Post

    Log in to post a comment

    Disclaimer: Weight loss results will vary from person to person. No individual result should be seen as a typical result of following the SparkPeople program.