At issue | Sept. 19 Chicago Tribune editorial, "Butt out of our fatness"
When a government sees its citizens rolling down the road to diabetes, heart attacks and strokes, it has a responsibility to take action. Not by policing that infringes upon personal freedoms, but by policy to help inform consumers and shape the built environment.
The obesity epidemic is a serious threat to our national well-being and, without a course correction, will ensure that most of our children have adult lives of illness and limited mobility.
People did not, over the last two decades, suddenly become gluttonous creatures with no willpower. We now live in a world where $5 will buy more calories than you need all day delivered in a small sack through your car window.
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The National Weight Control Registry reports that only 5 percent of U.S. adults who lose 20 pounds or more can keep it off for two years. Controlling body weight through the sole effort of individuals is a dismal failure.
We need a supportive environment and social networks. Malcolm Gladwell's work in The Tipping Point shows that when at least a quarter of our closest contacts adopt a new behavior, it becomes easier for everyone to join in.
What we know about how government can help create a healthful environment is illustrated clearly by how our society currently embraces seat belts and has one of the safest food supplies on Earth. Government actions — through policies about sidewalks, bike lanes and park access — can make it easier and more fun to be active. Incentives to provide citizens with easy access to healthier foods can be enacted through government tax and zoning codes.
Changes in policy and environment create the world we live in every day. The use of advocacy in addition to education makes it easier for individuals to make the better choice. Government can help create an environment where healthful behavior is the norm. And that would be a world in which it would no longer be necessary to constantly tell consumers that an apple is an obviously better choice than chips.