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Who is Accountable for the American Anatomy?

It is well known that Americans are typically over weight, that the average American consumes a highly processed diet rich in fats, sugars, fillers, artificial colors and flavors, and that healthy people who move to America and develop a taste for the American diet also develop all the illnesses related to those food choices. When I was younger the catch phrase was "you are what you eat." It seems that thought still applies today.

Our legal arena is beefing up for lawsuits against the food industry's artery clogging producers. The American Obesity Association, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and others are collectively calling for a "fat tax". The argument is that Americans are dying at alarming rates because of the lifestyles we are being encouraged to live. High fat foods are consumed regularly because they are simple to prepare, easy to get, inexpensive, and because we are bombarded by media blitzes dangling the juicy burgers and fried chicken instead of the healthful carrot. A fat tax would allow for money to be collected to finance an equal media campaign that would profess the benefits of eating healthy foods. The money would also help to subsidize healthy food industries such as organic food growers. Money would be available, they argue, to offset the expense obesity draws from the American pocket book.

Some folks are upset that the nutrition conscious individual pays the same insurance fees as those who dine at Burger King often. Insurance companies then could give a break to those who can show proof that they choose a healthful lifestyle.

Here are some numbers to consider. According to CSPI, $1.1 billion is the yearly marketing budget of McDonald's. The National Cancer Institute spends approximately $1 million yearly to encourage us to eat healthy foods. According to the Surgeon General Satcher the costs attributed to overweight and obesity incurred by the public adds up to approximately $117 billion in 2000 alone. Policy Analysis Inc. found that overweight workers cost their employers $12.7 billion in sick time and additional insurance coverage annually. In 1999, 61% of American adults were considered overweight and 13% of children and adolescents.

The CSPI argues that Canada has a national tax on junk-foods that is practically unnoticed by the public. By collecting as little as a penny per pound of snack food and for every twelve ounces of soft drink, a purse of nearly $1 billion would be available to finance the rebuilding of the deadly American fare.

Some have been calling this idea the "silver bullet" for destroying the American sugar tooth. The USDA would like to begin in the schools. The Agriculture Department has jurisdiction over the foods served in the cafeteria but is hand-tied when it comes to the vending machines, school stores, soda machines and al a carte food stuffs. Marilyn Hurt, president of the American School Food Association, stated her organization's frustration, "There is nothing to prevent the student from spending their money on pop and candy instead of going in and getting a sandwich, milk, and a piece of fruit." According to the National Soft Drink Association, 200 of the nation's 12,000 school districts have contracts that give soft drink companies exclusive rights to sell their products in those schools. This is what Kelly Brownell, a professor of psychology at Yale University and director of Yale's center for Eating and Weight Disorders, was arguing when he made the much reported comment, "To me, there is no difference between Ronald McDonald and Joe Camel." He has since toned down his rhetoric, yet others are screaming for a $3 Snicker Bar and fresh fruit stands next to every fast food joint.

These comments have worked their way right into the hands of the opposers. Some of the group siding against the fat tax are dismissing the proponents as "food nazis", "Twinkie Taxers", "Sheeple". Others are wondering, where do we draw the line? Do we sue the producers of the unhealthy foods or the distributors, or the mothers who cook these meals for their families or the industry that wraps these demons in tempting and appealing packages or the Nation's psychologists who fail to get to the root of the problem or the employers who leave little time for meals or the Boy Scouts for reinforcing our love of pancakes and porkies?

Do we take the same road as those suing the tobacco industries? Where has all that money gone? It may not be too unrealistic to say that there are many lawyers who reaped the benefits of the litigious smoker. A battle cry long voiced has argued that we have simply rewarded millions of dollars to the smoker who chose to smoke despite the known health risks. Many accuse the "food police" to be working on their own best interests and not those of the public, grouping them with the Prohibitionists of the past.

Feelings run very deep for some. Wendy McElroy, author of "The Reasonable Woman" and writer for LewRockwell.com, went so far as to use a quote by Joel Mabus to begin her article "The Food Fascists", "Hitler was a vegetarian, don't you know. He was also an anti-smoker... militantly so."

Recently, I tuned into NPR talk radio with Tom Clark who was talking with John Doyle of the Center for Consumer Freedom. Doyle remarked that the fat tax is "ridiculous" and that "there are no good or bad foods." Doyle makes the point that the public knows that all cheeseburgers all the time is not healthy just as all carrots and water all the time is not good either. He believes that we should not demonize the cheeseburger when it can be part of a healthy meal. Doyle also pointed out that even if one eats one meal a day of fast food, who accounts for the other meals? If we assume that the average fast food eater consumes three meals a day, one of which is purchased (willingly) from a fast food joint, there are still 14 meals consumed elsewhere. Do we tax meals cooked at home? One caller joked that to be fair to the fast food restaurants and convenience stores, scales would have to be placed at the ends of the check out lines at the grocery stores so the consumer could be taxed according to their weight.

Fingers are being pointed in many directions. Few are pointed toward ourselves and the choices that we are making as a culture. What is the answer? As a former waitress, I can attest to the strong feelings people attach to their food. No matter where you stand on this issue you would have to agree that the discourse is wonderful. People will be educated and may find themselves making healthier decisions.

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