A moratorium on McDonalds?
Almost 40 percent of children in Price George’s County, Maryland are overweight. So state Sen. David C. Harrington wants to impose a moratorium on the permitting of new fast food restaurants in the area. Cutting obesity and its attendant ills in a particularly unhealthy part of the state is a great goal, and the county or the state should do all sorts of things fast food joints wouldn’t like to encourage better eating. But preventing the construction of new McDonaldses and Burger Kings is a nanny-state intrusion too far.
Other methods of promoting healthier eating enhance or are at least neutral to consumer choice. Forcing restaurants to display calorie counts for their full menus enables people to make more informed decisions about what they’re eating. So does expanding educational programs on healthy diets. Banning trans fats, which New York City has done, gets rid of an ingredient that’s pretty hard on the cardiovascular system and isn’t even necessary to make greasy food delicious.
Still other policies can nudge consumer behavior without such a broad restriction on the market; since overconsumption of fast food leads to higher health costs that society must bear, I’m even sympathetic to the argument that taxing it to discourage consumption and to make those social costs explicit might make sense. But, at some point, diners should be able to make their own choices about where and what to eat, and the market should be allowed to meet that demand.
Instead, Prince George’s officials worry about putting “citizens at risk to make poor decisions,” as Health Officer Donald Shell put it to The Post, even though that’s sort of the point of America’s whole “free country” thing. Now that’s a sentence that should make shivers run down your spine.
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