A Culture of Oblivion

“State With Highest Obesity Rate Passes Bill to Ban Bloomberg-Like Food Regulation.” Now there’s a headline that got my attention.

For those of you whom might not be aware, New York City is in the midst of a brouhaha over Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s recent efforts to ban eateries from serving sodas over 16 ounces. Bloomberg’s reasoning is that sugary sodas have a direct correlation to America’s skyrocketing obesity rates — a serious problem that is now a major public health concern, costing the US billions in healthcare and lost worker productivity.

The price tag for diabetes related illness in the USA for 2012 was $245 billion.

Mayor Bloomberg, a somewhat independent, pro-business republican (net worth estimated at $27 billion), saw the obesity problem as a clear threat to his city’s well-being and productivity, and did what any CEO might do: sought to limit damage and keep a big problem from becoming a disaster. However, something else happened in the process. Bloomberg’s actions cut against core American cultural values of independence and self determination, and a significant backlash erupted. So much so that the legislature of Mississippi, the state with the highest obesity rates in the world, sought to ensure that no Bloomberg-like law will ever take place there.

I happened to be in Italy in 1996 when the seat belt law took effect, and I recall fondly waking up the next morning in Florence to find the streets flooded with vendors selling white tee-shirts with a black seat belt stripe cutting across them. Reckless driving is, after all, a virtual birthright to Italians, but this recent action by the Mississippi legislature struck me as a particularly lamentable expression of a land’s cultural traits working against the best interests of its people.

At what point is it necessary for government to get involved in such choices when a country seems to be eating and drinking itself into oblivion?

I’m curious. How do our non-US readers feel about this subject? If you lived in a place where 31% of the adult population was obese, 67% was overweight, as were 20% of children, would you be open to government intervention on the matter or would you prefer government to stay off your menu?


RW3 CultureWizard is a leading provider of cross cultural training and information, primarily through the CultureWizard and CulturalTraining.com intercultural learning platforms.

Comments (6 Comments)
  1. Dennis

    I will open by saying that I am not obese, nor overweight and I exercise regularly. Also, I have pretty much written off soda and I drink primarily water, and coffee with just a touch of cream, thank you.

    I am also a former soldier and believe we have a duty to ourselves and our neighbors not to be “marshmallows” but to stay reasonably fit within our age and abilty.

    Next, studies have shown a correlation of obesity and induced diabetes from excessive sugar intake and logic would support such a conclusion. We are not made to dump liquid sugar down our throats and most everyone knows it.

    Now, what do we do about it? It hits a nerve that big brother would ban certain size sodas. First, its silly because you can always buy two or go back for seconds so its mostly grandstanding and arrogance to think that you can control such a thing from on high. Secondly, it is a micromanagement of people that is really not what goverment is for. We created this goverment because we did not want a king or queen that could tell us how to live, so why this? To the other extreme is Alabama. Couldn’t they just pass a law that they will implement good government instead? That would cover it.

    Now, solve the problem proactively by getting the information out. Also what about the free candy of free health care to self abusers? Free liver transplants for alcoholics? Free diabetic treatment to the obese? EMT’s risking life and limb to help a 50 year old having a heart attack because he made himself obese and hasn’t walked more than a hundred yards in decades? Certainly I want to help, but isn’t that enabling?

    There’s some food for thought. Sorry I did not sugar coat it. ;-)

  2. Dennis

    Opps, I meant Mississipi.

  3. Richard

    I do not think the problem is food as NY Mayor Bloomberg has tried to regulate. Rather, I submit that as a society the US (and others) are doing very little to educate people about nutrition and food. I think it is interesting to note that one of the poorest states mentioned in this article has one of the worst education systems too.

    I have yet to hear about a school district that is creating classes and ciriculum to educate children and teenagers about food or to open their eyes to the value of making better food choices! For obese adults, it is a very hard road to make a change later in life. Genetics from getting older and habit just make it an uphill battle (not impossible), so lets address the issue before it becomes an issue!

    People as a culture simply (as a right) do not choose obesity, diabetes, cancer and a whole range of health issues steming from making poor food choices or consuming too much sugar. I think it is just ignorance. We should do more to eliminate ignorance rather than wasting time trying to regulate poor food.

  4. Alihan

    I’m obese though feel fit and can do many things obese people can’t. still too much of weight.
    Mr. Bloomberg’s intention looks like good one but the way it is implemented not. IMHO governments / state authorities shall be doing primarily two things 1) education population on damage caused by unhealthy food and drinks. an example I was not aware of level of sugar contained in soda drinks and once got to know it stopped drinking them. 2) controlling enterprises involved into production of food and drinks by putting standards which would help to control production of healthy food. companies shall invest more into R&D works and make research results available to public.

    Educated society is most healtheist one from menthal and physycal perspectives.

  5. Adam

    Hi Richard,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. One thing, I am happy to let you know that a good many well-meaning chefs and food educators are taking on the issue of food/nutrition education at the school level.

    You can learn a little more about what Chef Alice Waters (Chez Panisse)is doing here: http://edibleschoolyard.org/


  6. David

    I think the problem is the carrot versus stick aproach. Our countries founding fathers wanted government to be small and allow people to make their own choices. People should be educated and self motivated but not compelled by government in how they lead their lives. This is the carrot approch: make good, disciplined decisions and you will probably have a better life.

    The big government approach is different. It has leaders that are supposedly wiser and more disciplined than common folk. These leaders then compel, by force if necessary, common people to the right things as decided by the leaders: this is the stick approach. The fatal conciet in this approach is that the leaders are often not wiser than common folks, plus they more often than not are corrupted by power.

    I think most US citizens would rather make their own choices and mistakes than have leaders compel them to do things. That is just part of the human spirit that we all have. It is like the allegory in the movie The Truman Show. The protagonist would rather have a free life with all the complication thath entails, rather than live a perfect life that is controled and artificial.

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