Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Youth obesity solution: regulate school junk food?

I was just sent this e-mail from Jenn.
The balance of this email is pregenerated, but I think this is a
great cause and makes so much more sense than what we've got
going on now! Check it out.

Love you,

Dear Friend,

With so much junk food in schools and lack of opportunities for
physical activity -- our kids are paying the price with their
health. So I'm working with the Stir It Up campaign, a national
movement of parents bringing together everyone who cares about
kids to work for healthier eating and a healthier lifestyle for
all kids. It's a parents' movement that will put children first.

The first step in Stir It Up is to get the junk food out of our
schools, and the physical activity in.

I'm hoping you'll join me. Taking action online is quick, easy,
and I think it can really make a difference in our kids' lives
-- check it out here:

Powered by Parents' Action for Children

I responded to her as follows. Here I have tried to add a few links to some of the context of my response. Note that solutions to the obesity problem is a frequent topic between Jenn and me, and so I don't mention some of the many other arguments I have against this idea that I've mentioned before in other posts. (in other words, I recognize that there exist many other arguments; I just wanted to highlight this one here)

Hey Jenn --

   They have done this in California. It was an initiative of Governor SchwartzBeWithYou. The result is a huge black market of junk food in schools. Older kids leave schools, buy junk food, and bring it back to the school to resell. Some parents provide junk food and the kids end up selling it later.

   I imagine that this ingenuity extends far back into elementary school as well. Economists have started to study food markets forming in elementary schools where snacks from home are starting to be traded for other goods and services. (link?) The market seems to follow microeconomics' supply and demand rules too. Things can be as complex and interesting as real money markets.

   As long as there are people willing to eat junk food, I don't think regulation is going to help because there will always be some way to subvert that regulation. In fact, what you end up doing is hurting more people than you hope to help. People who refuse to stop eating junk food pay much higher costs, which encourages more people to trade junk food. In fact, you don't do much to reduce junk food you however you increase it's value to make it impossible for it ever to go away.

   Keep in mind, Jenn, that this is exactly what has gone on in the illegal drug market. By adding regulation, you've made it even harder for drugs to be used responsibly. I know that you understand this argument when it comes to illegal drugs; do you see how it also applies to junk food? (and perhaps to other things, maybe including prostitution, alcohol, cigarettes, and others? (even handguns?))


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