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Argument: Obesity epidemics justify mandatory calorie counts

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California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said in 2008, following his signing of a bill that mandated calorie counts in restaurants in California: "When I was in the Austrian army, I drove a tank that weighed 50 tons. Now multiply that by 3,500 -- that's as many pounds as California has gained [in the past decade]. [...] This legislation will help Californians make more informed, healthier choices by making calorie information easily accessible at thousands of restaurants throughout the state."[1]


Ezra Klein. "Change, Calories, Cost". Washington Post. July 15, 2009: "Over the past 50 years [...] some privileged humans have been faced with a largely novel problem: the consequences of too much food and drink. For a while, the primary impact seemed to be extra lumps of flesh, which had their downsides so far as mating went but, overall, weren't too bad. But in recent years, the problem has become much worse. In particular, the modern, privileged human has developed such chronic ailments as diabetes and heart disease. Unlike acute starvation, these diseases kill slowly, painfully and, above all, expensively.

The consequences are not confined to the individual. As I write, Congress is considering an overhaul of the health-care system. But the concern isn't health: It's money. If trends continue, health-care costs will chew up 100 percent of the gross domestic product by the end of the century. And estimates suggest that half to two-thirds of that growth is coming from chronic diseases related to diet. We're eating our way through the national budget.

Chronic illness is often the result of personal decisions but nevertheless has a tremendous public consequence. All of us, as taxpayers, bear the burden through Medicare or Medicaid. And all of us with private health insurance see our premiums rise when our office mates fall ill. And all of us would suffer if our government has to default on its debt because health-care costs overwhelm the treasury. If that is to be averted, however, we will have to get less sick. And that means changing how we eat.

But how we eat is hard to change. And the government has, at best, blunt tools. The first thing the feds are likely to reach for is the tax code. That makes some sense: The simple story of the past few decades is that calories got plentiful, which made them cheap, which led us to purchase more of them, which left us fat and sick. The answer to that, some think, is to run the process in reverse and make calories more expensive. One way is to slap a tax on them.

[...] Another idea gaining momentum is calorie labeling on restaurant menus. The concept is simple: Chain restaurants will have to list caloric information on their menus and menu boards. Not behind the desk, or off to the side, or up on the ceiling. Where you can see it. New York, among other cities, has already instituted that policy. Every Starbucks in Manhattan now must post the calories in a MochaFrappaWhatsIt right next to the drink name."

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