Home > Politics > Bachmann and Palin miss the point on obesity

Bachmann and Palin miss the point on obesity

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn) recently took exception to Michelle Obama publicly promoting breast-feeding as a positive choice for childhood health. Her criticism echoes that of former Gov. Sarah Palin who has also attacked the first lady’s ongoing efforts to curb childhood obesity. This theme of government bashing and anti “nanny-state” rhetoric is not only toxic politics, but it seems to miss the point that an obesity problem even exists.

Several republicans and prominent conservatives rail against the influence of government in nudging the choices of society. They denounce moves like the IRS’s recent announcement that nursing supplies that aide in breast-feeding can be deducted from tax returns. Bachmann explained, “To think that government has to go out and buy my breast pump for my babies? You wanna talk about the nanny state, I think you just got a new definition.”

(update 2/22/2011 – Politifact.org found Michele Bachmann’s claim listed above as “false.”)

I would find this a more reasonable objection if it were not so narrowly applied. Does Bachmann really oppose the state encouraging behavior by offering deductions for charitable contributions? retirement plan contributions? business expenses? mortgage interest? If so, then that could be a coherent position of non-intervention on behalf of government to allow people to live with the consequences of their own choices. Alas, that is not the case as Rep. Bachmann supports expanding tax-savings health savings accounts and the adoption tax credit. It seems that it pays to vilify the government if the incentive is something you don’t agree with.

Most disturbing, however, is the fact that Bachmann and Palin don’t seem particularly worried about obesity and its impact among children. The rhetoric is best captured again by Bachmann saying, “the first lady cannot trust parents to make decisions for their own children, for their own families in what we should eat.” Gov. Palin said similar things when criticizing the San Francisco decision to require meals which offer toys to conform to certain nutritional requirements. The mantra is that we should leave the issue alone and let people make their own choices. The problem is that people have been making their own choices and it isn’t working out!

According to the CDC, “During the past 20 years there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States.” The facts show that Americans are getting fatter as obesity rates exceeded 30 percent in nine states in 2009, up from only three in 2007. That means that 2.4 million more people became obese by their own choices and will be at greater risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and even certain types of cancer. Further, considering childhood obesity the CDC reports, “the prevalence of obesity among children aged 6 to 11 years increased from 6.5% in 1980 to 19.6% in 2008.” The problem of poor nutrition and obesity is a real health concern and should be dealt with because it will affect private health insurance rates along with long-term Medicare and Medicaid costs.

(As a side note, I have to laugh a little at Palin arguing that parents should decide what children eat, yet to prove her point she brought cookies to a school without the consent of the parents. You could also argue the happy meal toys clouds the dietary choice with an entertainment incentive. What if adults got free lap-dances with their Big Mac?)

If politicians thought these measures to curb childhood obesity were ineffective strategies then we could have a reasonable conversation about what would work. Unfortunately, they simply oppose doing anything because “government is evil” and their political opponents “don’t understand” what is best for people. Both Rep. Bachmann and former Gov. Palin miss the point entirely on obesity and use a serious societal issue as a political punch-line. Any reasonable person should expect more from their politicians and vote accordingly.

Categories: Politics
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