Tuesday, April 19, 2005

America is embroiled in a raging food fight, and one of the main battle lines concerns whom to blame for this country’s poor eating habits and consequent health problems caused by our diets. The good news is that despite a lot of media hype to the contrary, personal responsibility is holding its own as the primary weapon in the waistline wars.

Rather than focusing on gaps in personal responsibility, today’s culture of complaint blames nefarious outside forces imposing bad dietary decisions on unwitting individuals as the main cause of obesity. ABC News did a special a little over a year ago titled “How to Get Fat Without Really Trying,” a fatalistic look at how factors beyond our control grow the girth. Last year CATO Institute analyst Radley Balko summed it up well, when he wrote, “A growing army of nutritionist activists and food industry foes are egging the process on. Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest has said ‘we’ve got to move beyond ‘personal responsibility.’ ” Where this is all heading, according to Mr. Balko, is clear: government intervention — in the form of new regulations on restaurants and food companies and increased litigation prompted by exotic legal theories for trial lawyers — all in the name of fighting obesity.

Fortunately, most voters still believe that responsibility in these food fights lies with individuals and parents, not the government or food companies.

In a recent poll conducted by Dutko Worldwide (800 registered voters, March 21-26, 2005), we asked voters “who bears the greatest responsibility for obesity” in the United States — individuals, parents, doctors, schools, restaurants, food companies or nutrition educators. An overwhelming majority of voters (63 percent) believes “individuals themselves” bear the greatest responsibility, followed next by parents (22 percent). Not only are these results impressive for those advocating more personal responsibility, but the percentage that believe food companies (4 percent), restaurants (2 percent) and schools (1 percent) bear responsibility is stunningly low, given all the media attention implicating these institutions in the obesity crisis.

Moreover, as the other charts indicate, personal responsibility is consistently strong as a response across all gender, age and partisan categories.

Americans may hear and read a lot these days about the external culprits in the obesity food fight. But it appears that most voters believe looking in the mirror reveals both the cause and the effect of our country’s battle of the bulge.

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