Now that Joe Camel has retired, public health specialists have found a new symbol of evil: Ronald McDonald. Once dismissed as a joke, the idea that the government should treat gluttony and sloth the way it treats smoking may soon be taken for granted.
Consider an article in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute's March 18 issue. Under the headline "Lessons from the Tobacco Wars Edify Nutrition War Tactics," the JNCI reports that "advocates of improved diet and exercise for better cancer prevention" are seeking "community level efforts and government policy changes" aimed at encouraging us to eat our vegetables and get off our fat asses once in a while.
"Lifestyle decisions are up to the individual," says nutrition researcher Laurence N. Kolonel, "but the environment in which the individual is functioning needs to help support that." In particular, Kolonel and his colleagues would like to see mandatory physical education and nutritional instruction in school, coupled with "federal funds to create accessible sites for physical activity."
Some who worry about how we stuff our faces have also recommended a tax on junk food and censorship of nutritionally incorrect ads. (See "Dining Fine," Citings, April.) "Just like tobacco," the JNCI ominously observes, "junk food and processed foods are produced by a huge industry intent on selling its products." It notes that McDonald's alone spends $599 million a year on advertising.
The article suggests that we are ill-equipped to resist such blandishments: "Although two-thirds of adults think it's very important to choose a diet with plenty of vegetables and fruits, consumption of these foods has increased only slightly since the late 1970s….90% of adults believe it's important to maintain a healthy weight, but 40% think they consume too many calories." The American people are sending a clear message: Stop us before we eat again.