The Los Angeles Times led its December 21, 2009 “Medicine” section with a foreshadowing report, “Obese kids: Should parents be blamed?” The article went on to state a conundrum starting to infiltrate court systems and social services at that time: “When and how do we intervene with childhood obesity?”
Amina Khan, author of the report, cited the three-decade growth of childhood obesity rates in the U.S. as an alarm to the Child Welfare League of America. As early as 2008, the organization noted that courts were increasingly being called into the equation, to decide if morbidly obese children could be classified as abused or neglected.
Indeed, in 2007 Joyce Painter, a North Carolina mother, was told she would lose her seven year-old son if she did not help him trim weight from his 255-pound frame. Is obesity a Constitutional right for adults, ergo they have the right to feed their children whatever they choose? The jury may still be out nationwide on this issue for everyone except New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Bloomberg has implemented a policy limiting single soft drink servings to 8-ounces in public businesses. “Obesity is the single biggest public health issue,” Mayor Bloomberg stated. “An average family is approaching 1000 pounds.”
Michael Bloomberg’s policy carefully treads on the line between individual freedom of choice vs. public threat. On one hand, we are free to create and sell highly caloric individual food servings; likewise, we are free to eat them.
This freedom of choice means that Americans now eat 13 billion burgers annually. McDonald’s offers the “Triple Thick Chocolate Shake.” Burger King serves “Bacon Sundaes.” The Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas offers “Quadruple Bypass Burgers,” and “Flatliner Fries.”
On the other hand, obesity’s links to diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and strokes cost our nation $147 billion annually in medical costs. Nearly 20% of obese citizens are children, who show signs of deleterious health issues earlier in life than ever before, setting them up for a lifetime of potentially serious medical problems. To deter Americans young and old from over-eating, will highly caloric food serving sizes ultimately be regulated and taxed like cigarettes?
Sidestepping the uproar a new tax could cause, along with any notion of infringing on individual liberties, Bloomberg does not regulate how many 8-ounce servings of soft drinks individuals can purchase at one time. He allows New York City inhabitants to choose and consume the number of calories they desire, just like McDonald’s, Burger King and the Heart Attack Grill.
Inherent in the discussion about the current obesity rate in children is the effect it will have on the future. While Americans choose to eat Burger King’s sundaes, the Heart Attack Grill’s burgers and fries, and McDonald’s shakes, social services and public organizations are taking note. Public policy may not be far behind.