Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Cast Your Ballots, Or We'll Make You

We have a funny way of looking at government here in America. We enjoy the benefits it gives us, yet we don’t hesitate to condemn it for imposing itself upon our freedom. Particularly in the case of our national epidemic of obesity and its associated risks, we want government to fix our problems. But we bemoan the laws they pass, such as banning soda from schools, in order to stay the growth of our collective waistline.

We can’t have it both ways. Either we take accountability for our own health and make the effort to choose nutritious foods over Big Macs and pizza, or water instead of soda. Or we can refuse to make changes until the severity of the problem becomes so evident that we are forced to legislate our food for our own good.

I came across a really interesting (and thoughtful) blog post from the president of Quest Nutrition, who argues against such legislation even when the consequences to our health can be negative. He sums up his reasoning in one sentence: “By trying to legislate people’s eating habits you force compliance rather than inspiring companies to deliver higher quality products.”

Which is a really good point. But while he’s looking at the mindset of companies, I think the same can be said of individuals. When you legislate eating habits, you don’t inspire people to make positive changes for the sake of their health--in some cases, you turn them against the very choices they should be making.

And let’s face it, in a corporate world where survival depends on outselling your competitors, what’s going to inspire companies to deliver these higher quality, healthier products, if we don’t write it into laws?

The answer: we are. Us. We, the people. This is why it’s important to look at the way legislation affects the individual, not just the company. America is a democracy, and nowhere is this truer than in retail. Only here, we vote with our wallets. If we all took a stand against fatty foods or sugary beverages or shopped local and organic instead of buying processed cereal with ingredients you can’t even pronounce, those processed products wouldn’t last long on the shelves. By decreasing their profits, we could inspire companies to change their ways. We could rewrite the nutritional panel of America’s superstores.

Unfortunately, as long as it’s more convenient to stop at Walmart for frozen TV dinners or at McDonald’s for a burger and fries, that’s what most people will do (and I’m guilty of this sort of thing, though not the burger specifically ;)). It’s cheaper, it’s easier, so why should we do it any other way? Therein lies the challenge.

So remember next time you cast your vote. Even a little change can make a difference. It’s our collective effort that will ultimately determine the outcome. And if we’re going to beat this health challenge, we need to make lifestyle changes for our own sake. Forcing people is just a band-aid on the wound. What we need is a lasting change, for the better.
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