Last Friday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill to make California the first state to ban trans fats from all restaurants and bakeries. This would affect about 88,000 food outlets. Last October, he also signed a bill banning trans fats from the public schools. It will be phased in California by 2010.
Trans fats are the partially hydrogenated oils that extend the shelf life of products, its what gives fast food that crisp and flavorful taste. Experts say just a 2 percent increase of trans fat intake can result in a 25 percent increase in the likelihood of developing coronary artery disease—a condition that can lead to sudden cardiac arrest and death. It’s the worst kind of fat.
I, myself, won’t buy anything that has trans fat in it. Even if it has a small ounce of it, I won’t buy it. So what’s the philosophy behind this? Well, I have mixed feelings about this ban. The purpose of government is to (a) protect other people from doing harm to other people–basically making sure that people don’t infringe on other people’s rights (if you want to use rights terminology), and (b) making sure that society progresses, or at the very least, doesn’t regress. Unfortunately, these two purposes can come into conflict. So what about the trans fat ban? It seems that it violates principle (a). As long as the individual is doing it to him/herself, the government cannot intervene. After all, if we have to look out for people’s health, why not ban smoking? This is where it gets sticky. Part of a corollary in part (b) is that people aren’t educated in some areas, thus the government has to look out for these people. An example is that people need an education. Thus, it’s law that you must go to school and become educated because it benefits society regardless if you want it or not.
It’s an interesting issue, but I found some pros and cons with this ban:
- Society will be healthier: Ok, so with people not consuming trans fat, perhaps our obesity problem will shrink and can become a healthier society. Sounds like a good deal. However, we have to admit that trans fit isn’t the only problem to obesity, overeating is definitely a major contribution.
- It’s cheaper in the end: How so? A recent study in Health Affairs finds that annual medical spending in the late 1990s was about $732 higher for obese adults than for those in the healthy range, estimating that obesity’s medical costs reach about $35 to $62 billion per year in year 2007 dollars. Also, by law, insurers providing group health plans have almost no leeway to individualize insurance rates based on differences in risk factors like obesity; thus, if an obese person (spending an extra $732 annually) joins an insurance pool covering 732 people, each member will see their insurance rate rise by $1.00 unless the employer makes another adjustment. Obesity reduces some workers’ productivity, as it is associated with higher rates of absenteeism and disability leave. And many studies have found that heavier women are especially likely to have less economic success and to have husbands who earn less.
- It seems to work in other places: Advertising regulations seem to have real potential. Shin-Yi Chou, Inas Rashad, and Michael Grossman (they are professional economists) find that a ban on fast-food restaurant ads reduces the number of overweight children and adolescents by 10% to 12%.
- Why not ban smoking if we’re going to be consistent? The reason for this ban is so that the citizens will become healthier. But if we’re going to be consistent with our reasoning, then why not ban smoking as well?
- Couldn’t education be a better substitute? We’ve all learned as children that smoking is bad and unhealthy, but we’ve never really learned about eating healthy or these different kinds of fats in school. I didn’t learn about them until I was in college and that was because another student told me about them. After that, I started researching on my own. Have a class in public education that deals with food and eating healthy. Increase our physical education classes. Make people more aware of what they’re eating and drinking.
- Doesn’t this seem to violate individual autonomy? Can’t people have a choice on what to eat? So they learn about trans fats and proper diet, but they still eat it out of their own choice. Why should the government have a say on what we should or shouldn’t eat?
These are the ideas I’ve thought up. Anything else we want to add to the list? What are the overall assessments? Do you agree with the ban?