Obamacare Calorie Counts and Other 'Nanny State' Initiatives

Should government try to make us healthier? It depends on whom you ask

Helping people get healthier is a challenge that the FDA and local governments have been trying to tackle for years.

New Yorkers balked when Mayor Bloomberg attempted, earlier this year, to ban soft drink servings larger than 16 ounces, calling him "Nanny Bloomberg" and maintaining that the mayor has no right to tell them what to put in their bodies. The law, which was to have taken effect on March 12 of this year, was invalidated by the New York Supreme Court the day before.

But this was hardly the only time government has tried to interfere in the way we eat and drink, attempting to make our diets healthier and incurring the "nanny state" epithet. For years, the idea has been bounced around of a sugary drink tax that would make items like sodas, Slurpees, and Frappuccinos slightly more expensive, thus presumably reducing their appeal, but the concept hasn't made it very far in most places — though San Francisco is planning to add a soda tax bill to the November 2014 ballot.

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After all, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of Americans are obese and the medical cost of obesity nationwide has skyrocketed to $147 billion. It would thus be in the government’s best interest to try to curb nutrition-related illnesses, right? From taxing sugary drinks and banning trans fats to limiting junk food advertising and slapping calorie counts on menus, there are almost as many government-based solutions to our health problems as there are opinions on the matter.
"Poor eating habits are caused by so many venues and companies and it isn’t solely up to government but they do play a role," says Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocate research group that has conducted numerous studies around the issue, and pushed for FDA laws like the trans fat ban. "Some people might call it a nanny state but I see that it is not so much the government interfering with food choices as it is big companies like McDonald's and Coca-Cola. If anyone is a nutrition nanny, it’s these corporations."