September 4th, 2012
How Regulation Really Does Change Eating Behavior
By Marion Nestle
As I explained in a recent discussion of Richmond’s proposed soda tax, regulations make it easier for people to eat healthfully without having to think about it. They make the default choice the healthy choice. Most people choose the default, no matter what it is.
Telling people cigarettes cause cancer hardly ever got anyone to stop. But regulations did. Taxing cigarettes, banning advertising, setting age limits for purchases, and restricting smoking in airplanes, workplaces, bars and restaurants made it easier for smokers to stop.
Economists say, obesity and its consequences cost our society $190 billion annually in health care and lost productivity, so health officials increasingly want to find equally effective strategies to discourage people from over-consuming sugary drinks and fast food.
Research backs up regulatory approaches. We know what makes us overeat: billions of dollars in advertising messages, food sold everywhere - in gas stations, vending machines, libraries and stores that sell clothing, books, office supplies, cosmetics and drugs—and huge portions of food at bargain prices.