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 is requiring the food industry to inform consumers about the health implications of its products and at the same time be perfectly fine with a government mandating a transvaginal sonogram and requiring 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?
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 related to abortion and unhealthy foods are both excellent ways to help people avoid undesirable outcomes.