Banning the Big Mac and More

Los Angeles, California, is famed for odd approaches to the world that then catch on. According to the Wall Street Journal, L.A. is now trying to ban fast-food in a specific portion of the city where obesity rates are at 30%, nine points above the rest of the city and about four and half points above the national average. In this case L.A. is not the leader in banning fast food but it may be a leader in invoking health issues for such a ban. The usual nanny state criticisms are in play, and the head of the California Restaurant Association points out that sedentary lifestyle and poor nutrition education are part of the problem. Of course the article points out that ordinances requiring to restaurants to post nutrition information (dare we say nutrition education information) are being challenged by, guess who?, yes! the restaurant industry as forced speech (required delivery of a government message).

The article also notes that many in the area affected think it may be a good idea because alternatives are few and maybe other restaurants will enter the market. That may be, but the proposed ban does not seem to address local establishments that may be offering wonderfully fat and/or salt filled but in that sense worse food. (Yes I will happily indulge in an occasional foray to a local restaurant (or food shack as it may be) for the bad-for-me but oh so blasted good tasting food). In addition, WSJ does a great job reporting that bans on transfat that affect all restaurants changes all behaviors and seems to have fueled shifts in menus like salads and fruit appearing even at fast food venues.

Given the rising cost of food, fast food restaurants could become the best way to deliver healthy food at lower cost. Changing the desires for or increasing the knowledge of why the bad stuff is bad then is a vital piece of that puzzle.

So the efforts to address obesity through building parks and better education are great. This ban seems to be onto something too. But the ban as reported seems to attack a lever (of course folks go to the place that is known and advertised as the comforting, inexpensive food we love (the Big Mac attack) that is part of the problem while leaving gaps for others to offer similar food. If the restaurant industry wants to play ball fairly, they give up the fight on the nutrition data posting issue, SPEND more on educating folks, and then sell the better food from their restaurants. The fast food chains have the scale so that they can be leaders in that space rather than fighting the trend to hold onto an ill-advised approach to their business at least from a public health view.

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8 Responses

  1. Frank says:

    I think this all makes sense–but I have to say that, at least for children, really paternalistic (parentalistic?) measures make sense. The greasy food can be just too tempting, and heavy kids’ identities can quickly congeal around being overeaters. Anyway, in the Bloche/Epstein debate I link to in the following post, I’m definitely with Bloche:

    https://concurringopinions.com/archives/2007/07/the_genius_of_m.html

  2. Deven says:

    Right, so it seems to me the measure could do more to be effective on changing the way kids see food and that restaurants could choose to engage with the upside rather than fight all efforts to improve food. (The nanny state stuff is not so compelling to me. Folks invoke when they dislike a proposal and ignore similar rules when they like them. And with recent bad behaviors OR just wild swings from certain industries, the cry of nanny state seems suspect).

    Then again, maybe we should all be required to do calisthenics at the break of dawn.

  3. birtelcom says:

    I wonder whether publicly supported advertisements vividly associating fatty foods with obesity, sickness and death, a la anti-smoking ads, would be more palatable (no pun intended) than banning the offending foods entirely. We don’t even ban the sale of cigarettes to adults, and the case for that ban would be more compelling. Effective, ubiquitous advertising connecting unhealthy food to their real consequences (as opposed to the connections to happy, healthy lives portrayed in ubiquitous food industry ads) would be fighting fire with fire and could go some way to limiting the continuing growth of fast food addictions.

  4. Deven says:

    Yes PSAs would be another way to address the issue. That fits with the idea of across the board efforts that impact all food service. The ban is perhaps well-intentioned but its approach may need some fine tuning.

  5. d says:

    I’m concerned about the effect of these laws on the impoverished. Those in poverty are demonstrably more likely to be obese. If there are few available sources of affordable food that doesn’t consume too much time, banning some of them may lead to more hardship for the impoverished.

  6. d says:

    I’m concerned about the effect of these laws on the impoverished. Those in poverty are demonstrably more likely to be obese. If there are few available sources of affordable food that doesn’t consume too much time, banning some of them may lead to more hardship for the impoverished.

  7. TRE says:

    Banning trans-fats seems relatively harmless to me. I don’t see how a law could possibly ban “fast-food” though. How would they define it?

  8. Why not just try a little experiment first – get a bunch of well-meaning, know-ehat’s-best-for-the-people law professors to pool their money together and open up a couple of alternative food restaurants right next to the McDonalds and other proprietors you propose to further regulate. Presented with a healthy alternative, no doubt the populace will turn out in droves and make you all very rich…of course, you’ll probably then voluntarily turn most of that newfound wealth over to governments ’cause you don’t want to contribute to that wealth inequality thing…