2014 FIFTH PLACE ESSAY

Fat Mistakes: Failed Dietary Recommendations

by Andrew Lung, Age 17
Submitting Teacher: Ninos Malek


When the government passed the 18th Amendment, banning alcohol, the number of federal convicts in our country rose by a mere 561%. In the city of Detroit, the number of liquor serving establishments rose only from about 2,000 to 15,000 establishments. Okay, maybe "mere" and "only" are gross understatements. With good intentions to encourage Americans to stray away from the drunken evils of alcohol, the government actually created a string of grave and unwelcome unintended consequences. Al Capone probably would not have been the infamous gangster we know if he did not smuggle liquor. Politicians should take a hint from this blood-soaked period in history and realize that it is not their job to control what we eat or drink.

Even if politicians manage to pass a law controlling or banning some kind of substance, people will always find a way around it. During Prohibition, many subtler methods of acquiring alcohol arose, which resulted in a massive increase in crime. Ninety years later, according to John Stossel's "Food Nannies", the ban of the 32 ounce soda cup in New York City can simply be remedied by purchasing two 16 ounce sodas, or a store bought two-liter bottle probably half that price. Furthermore, the study by Yale and New York University professors yielded that some people, because of the caloric count, purchased more food. Not only are government controls ineffective, but some encourage the behavior that was intended to be curbed in the first place. Milton Friedman was right when he said that "One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results."

Further unintended health complications also arise if certain foods, such as salt, are banned. My grandmother purposely avoided salt in her lifetime, and now in her old age she has digestive system problems attributed to her lack of salt. By no means am I implying that a ban on salt will cause this problem for everyone, but it may increase the likelihood that this will happen among the population, an unintended consequence of a salt ban.

According to Thomas Sowell, "We seem to be moving steadily in the direction of a society where no one is responsible for what he himself did, but we are all responsible for what somebody else did, either in the present or in the past." Personally, I believe that no good will come about with any sort of control; if there is any sort of change of behavior to avoid obesity, it must come from within the person, not some government politician sitting 100 miles away believing that his rules will better my social livelihood.

I was bullied, beat up, and called names I cannot write here, as a child, mostly because I was chubby, which I attribute to baby fat. And then I made the conscious decision to start swimming competitively when I was nine. Not only did I shed all that weight, but now I can eat whatever I want, whenever I want, and I actually have to eat a high calorie diet anyways to prevent myself from becoming anorexic. So government restrictions on the little pleasures in life, like bacon cheeseburgers, could deprive me of valuable caloric resources and cause more harm than good.

Furthermore, my coach, once told us that he could be the worst coach in the world, but in the end we could still make it to the Olympics if we wanted it bad enough. Simply put, I make my own decisions. My coach cannot force me to swim, only I can. If he somehow physically were able to, that would be weird, and I would not swim very quickly. Similarly, the government should not force people to eat or not eat certain foods. External force does not equate to success. In the end it is up to the person to weigh their own costs and benefits of eating or working out, and if the benefits of eating a juicy 1,000 calorie bacon cheeseburger from Five Guys' outweighs the costs, then so be it. Sure the government can "coach" people and make information readily available about what is being consumed, but forcibly banning things does not make for desirable results; history has already noted the adverse side effects of bans. What if the government did pass a law that outlawed fattening fast foods, then what? An illegal black market hamburger trade would start.

Our country was created because of the unrest caused by too much government taxation and too much government control. So, if our Founding Fathers fought a war against a controlling government, why are we slowly returning to that state of administration?