Should the government be involved in regulating our diets? In her most recent blog entry, my colleague Shannon thinks not. In the comments on that blog, our friend David Phipps at York University thinks that government intervention is appropriate.
Courtesy of Futurity, the university research aggregator, here’s some more fodder for that conversation.
A study at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity estimates that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps, pay approximately $2 billion annually for sugar-sweetened beverages like soda pop and sweetened fruit juices.
The researchers point out the 2010 dietary guidelines for Americans target sugar-sweetened beverages for reduction, and that their finding is significant motivation to reconsider SNAP program priorities.
If you’re of the mind that less government is more, then this finding and its related recommendations are a two-edged sword, with both edges harmful. On one edge, how much government food and nutrition assistance is too much? On the other edge, should government be using its regulatory leverage to modify behavior?
In my opinion, this is a no-brainer. Unlike climate change and the efficacy of vaccination, no one is really disputing that large quantities of sugary drinks are bad for you. Does the government have the right to decide “we’re not going to pay for soft drinks with SNAP funds?” Absolutely. And will the government be influencing behavior with that decision? Absolutely.
It reminds me somewhat, although in reverse, of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offering incentive grants to the states that implemented seat-belt laws. NHTSA was saying, in effect, “We’re not ordering you to have a seat-belt law. You just can’t have this grant money if you don’t.”
Intrusive overreach, or appropriate social engineering?