"Self regulation?" That's like "no regulation," right?

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I’d been saving Jon Entine’s post in Forbes on a back screen for a while, motivated by the headline, “Is 2013 a Watershed Year for the Anti-Obesity Movement?”/ and I finally got to it.

What a bunch of hooey!

First off, though he never answers the question of the headline! (Though, as a journalist of 30 years’ standing, I should ensure that you know that headlines are written after the text, usually by someone other than the author. Is it *supposed* to describe the body of the article, but if the writer writes the piece and then the headline writer sticks something weak on top of it afterward, we can’t blame the writer. Wow, this digression was unfortunately long!)

But also, Entine’s peddles several feeble assertions that would have undercut his success under any circumstances.

Chief among his feebility is a discussion about whether junk-food advertising to children influences child obesity. He says, in part: “Researchers have found no proof that obesity is directly caused by ads for sweets or junk food,” and then follows that up with this whopper: “‘Despite media claims to the contrary,’ writes David Ashton, a cardiovascular epidemiologist at the Imperial College School of Medicine in London, ‘there is no good evidence that advertising has a substantial influence on children’s food consumption and, consequently, no reason to believe that a complete ban on advertising would have any useful impact on childhood obesity rates.’”

Never mind the “smell test,” which should be enough to persuade anyone not blinded by ideology. Let’s ask the corporations who spend more than $10 billion a year advertising to children. Do you think *they* think it influences what and how much kids eat, or are they just shelling of $10 billion worth of a whim and a hope?

I don’t care how rich you are. You don’t spend $10 billion year after year without damn-near certainty that it’s buying what you need.

Later, Entine raises the question, “Can self-regulation work?” which ought to generate spontaneous guffaws from anyone.

Isn’t “self-regulation” synonymous with “no regulation?” as in, “We don't want to be told what to do. We'll handle it ourselves”? How would that work with, say, young children? How ‘bout convicts?

In fact, never mind the hypotheticals: We *already* know how Big Food will act under self-regulation — it has been showing us for decades. And, it’s not unlike how heavy industry operated before the EPA, whose creation was a clear public acknowledgement of what corporate interests would themselves declare, that their first responsibility is not to public but to private interest.

We could be here all day, but my last target in this rich environment will be his hoary, very Forbes-ian description that attempts to raise taxes on unhealthy food substances appeal “to some politicians as a stealth way to raise government revenue in a struggling economy.” Brahmin, please. Even in a tax-wary world, there are easier ways to raise money than to tack taxes onto someone’s Twinkies.

He also suggests that the November losses of soda-tax proposals in two California municipalities resulted from popular uprising, instead of from the overwhelming campaign and lobbying expenditures from corporations.

Meanwhile, on this question of surcharges, I suggest they are quixotic. Adding, say, a penny an ounce isn’t going to change behavior by much, and that — no, not to fill government coffers — is why they’d be helpful. A steeper levy would be needed for that — how much more would a soda have to cost before you’d settle, even if grumpily, for soda water? — and given how Entine’s ilk have fought even the most modest hit, you know we’ll never get to an effective level. And in the meantime, anything that passes will be ineffective, “proving” Big Food’s contention that they don’t work.

Author and wellness innovator Michael Prager helps smart companies
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