Last November, the government of Denmark announced that it was repealing a year-old tax on fatty foods because the tax had failed to curb fat consumption but had succeeded in driving business — and jobs — to neighboring countries. It was a rare retreat in the international war on obesity.
From London to Lima and from the Big Apple to Budapest, governments are imposing increasingly onerous diktats in an effort to shrink their populations’ rapidly expanding waistlines. The hope is that by reducing the incidence of obesity, the many health problems associated with it, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, will also become less common, thereby reducing healthcare costs — a major concern in an era in which governments either heavily subsidize or fully operate their nations’ healthcare systems.
Few would deny that obesity is a serious problem in the modern world. Sedentary lifestyles, poor diets, and possibly many other factors have caused scales to tip at previously unheard-of rates. According to the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO), as of 2008 more than 1.4 billion adults were overweight, and more than half a billion were obese. The WHO claims that every year at least 2.8 million people die as a result of being overweight or obese.
As one might expect, the problem is most acute in prosperous countries. Among industrialized nations, the United States bears the dubious distinction of being the world’s fattest, with over 35 percent of adults and 17 percent of youth classified as obese, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. But, says the WHO, “obesity is now also prevalent in low- and middle-income countries.” (It is not, however, a noteworthy concern in communist countries, where the population is continually kept on the brink of starvation: North Korea tops the list of thinnest nations.)
The obesity problem, therefore, is not to be ignored; and governments, ever eager to seize upon the latest “crisis” to arrogate more power to themselves, have most certainly not ignored it. While the varied interventions — among them fat taxes, soda bans, and even mandated waist measurements — may appear to be isolated efforts by governments hoping to improve their peoples’ health and reduce healthcare costs, they are, in fact, part of a much larger, global movement seeking vastly greater state control over all aspects of society.
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