- - Friday, February 28, 2014

Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign has moved beyond her original goal, which all could applaud, of encouraging children to exercise and eat what’s good for them. Now the first lady has introduced a scheme from her husband’s administration to micromanage the trip to the supermarket. Otherwise, she says, Americans are too dumb to figure it out on their own.

Mrs. Obama describes Americans as befuddled by the array of choices in a modern, well-stocked supermarket. “So there you stood,” she says, “alone in some aisle in a store, the clock ticking away at the precious little time remaining to complete your weekly grocery shopping, and all you could do was scratch your head, confused and bewildered, and wonder if there’s too much sugar in this product?”

Help us, Mr. Government Man (or Lady), or we’ll be stuck in this aisle forever, trying to figure out whether butterbeans have calories.

Under the first lady’s scheme, the government will redesign packages and labels to tell everybody what they should and shouldn’t eat. “You as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into your local grocery store,” she says, “pick up an item off the shelf, and be able to tell whether it’s good for your family. So this is a big deal, and it’s going to make a big difference for families all across this country.”

Mrs. Obama is working with the Agriculture Department on a rule to limit marketing of “unhealthy” foods to schoolchildren. The federal government will be the arbiter of what’s healthy, not parents and teachers. Advertising at the football stadium would have to reflect the first lady’s dietary preferences. If Coca-Cola sponsors the scoreboard, it can advertise Diet Coke, but not the real thing. Deciding whether one is actually healthier than the other is as arbitrary as a pass-interference call.

The odor of paternalism leaks through in the White House statement: “Parents can rest assured that the hard work they are doing at home to keep their kids healthy will be reinforced when they are in child care.” If parents can’t or won’t police what kids eat and drink, the White House will do it for them.

The problem with the food choices Americans make has little to do with advertising or labeling. Part of the problem is the pattern of government subsidies. American taxpayers subsidize one of the most unhealthy ingredients in the American diet. An independent research group finds that the the government pays out nearly $20 billion annually to subsidize corn syrup, corn starch, high fructose corn syrup and soy oils. The American sugar industry prospers under government protection, for which it pays handsomely.

There’s abundant cronyism inherent in government-approved nutrition advice. The famous food pyramid suggesting that everyone eat mostly grains was based on findings of the “McGovern Report,” which claimed that meat and dairy products were causing heart disease. The late Sen. George McGovern, who represented the South Dakota of the “amber waves of grain,” was a champion of grain growers.

The more effective way for Mrs. Obama to discourage unhealthy diets would be to cut off the subsidies, saving tens of billions of dollars while respecting the good sense of Americans to decide what’s best for themselves and their families. Instead of government nutrition labels, a label should disclose how much taxpayer cash goes to each product. Congress could explain why so much taxpayer money goes for junk food, but there’s small appetite for that.

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