Republican, George Will, used a recent column “Lets stop trying to encourage healthy habits by taxation” to discuss the supposed impropriety of the US government using its power to encourage healthier food choices. To accomplish this nudge toward good nutrition the government is requiring the food industry to educate consumers by listing calories and ingredients and by making consumption of vast quantities of health threatening foods less cost effective by raising taxes on these items. Mr. Will makes the argument that combating an epidemic of obesity, diabetes and heart disease is not reason enough to justify government intervention. The essence of his position is that for the government to insist on informed consent or to intentionally create an impediment that inhibits the choice of an adult is both unnecessary and paternalistic because adults understand the risks.
What I find ironic is that Mr. Will seems not to notice the glaring hypocrisy of this position when juxtposed with his blessing of Governor Rick Perry’s informed consent abortion legislation in Texas. How can a logical person be dismayed on the one hand that the government requires the food industry to inform consumers about the health implications of its products and at the same time be perfectly fine with a government mandate that requires doctors to recite a scripted speech regarding the implications of a requested medical procedure? If we are to assume that everyone knows the health risks associated with the consumption of certain foods doesn’t it follow that pregnant women also understand the implications of their choice to terminate?
A mandated transvaginal sonogram and 24 hour waiting period are much better examples of government paternalism than a tax on junk food. It’s not like the federal government is demanding that people get on the scales and then wait a day before purchasing a bag of potato chips. I respond viscerally to the horror of abortion. But I am also concerned with the national epidemic of obesity, heart disease and diabetes resulting from diets laden with unhealthy foods marketed by food industry executives who would prefer to keep the public in the dark. Education about causation and risks is an excellent way to help people avoid bad outcomes. Anyone who is an inconsistent apologist for government warnings of risks and repercussions should be suspect. So lets ditch the hypocrisy. One is either for informed consent and government involvement in personal decisions or against it.