Last week, the Mississippi legislature introduced a controversial bill that would have prohibited eateries from serving food to “any person who is obese based on criteria prescribed by the state health department.”
Under the bill, which was struck down before even making it to the House, the responsibility of denying larger customers would have fallen squarely on the shoulders of restaurant wait staff, with the state health department charged with monitoring compliance and revoking permits to those eateries that failed to comply.
Seem unreasonable? Well, that was kind of the idea! Supported by Republican Rep. John Read and W. T. Mayhall, Jr, the bill was never really expected to pass and was instead proposed to “shed a little light on the number one health problem in Mississippi.” Mississippi, you see, leads the nation in obesity, with 30% of the state’s adult population classified as obese, according to a 2007 study by the Washington, DC-based research group Trust for America’s Health.
And debate it did stir! After news broke of the controversial proposal, people – both thin and fat alike – turned out in droves to protest what they perceived to be a violation of their civil rights! Members of the Coalition of Fat Rights Activists blasted the bill for being discriminatory against larger people, calling the measure an “extension [of] our country’s uneasy relationship with fat people.” Restaurant owners, meanwhile, were up in arms, but even consumer advocacy groups got in on the act, with a senior research analyst at The Center for Consumer Freedom calling the bill “the latest example of food cops run amok”
What was perhaps most disconcerting, however, is that even physicians agreed that the bill was preposterous! But wait, it’s not all bad, because the guys in the white coats did have a point. Their concern rested mainly on the fact that simply denying overweight people access to the foods that, one could argue, could lead to their demise, wasn’t actually going to prevent them from eating it. We’ve all seen the Burger King Whopper commercials – denying people food leads to nothing but ill will towards the restaurant (and let’s not forget, those poor waiters and waitresses too!)
Indeed, critics of the bill agree, the state’s obesity problem is not likely to be fixed by denying hungry people the foods they crave. They argue that what the state needs is programs directed at the core of the problem….but failed to say what the core of the problem was or propose strategies to address them!
In our minds, the solution is relatively simple: Rather than a whopper or Big Mac, Americans should be craving information on nutrition. Public health programs should focus on educating consumers – be it through more informative food packaging, supermarket campaigns or even community education classes – about the benefits of “clean” eating and simple strategies and tips that they can use to guide their food choices.
Or would this just be another example of a “you can lead a horse to water” type of situation? Would the nutrition information fall on deaf ears and not deter the people who need it most from eating the type of food their body’s need?