Obesity Is Not a Disease
But calling it one is a symptom of our bloated federal government.


Michael Tanner

The attitudinal change around obesity is not an isolated question. Much of public policy these days seems designed to eliminate personal responsibility.

Take efforts to reduce poverty, for example. How much of poverty is due to poor lifestyle choices? We don’t want to blame the poor, nor should we forget that there are those, especially children, trapped in poverty by circumstances beyond their control. But we also know the keys to getting out of or staying out of poverty: (1) finish school; (2) do not get pregnant outside marriage; and (3) get a job, any job, and stick with it. Unfortunately, much of the welfare state we have constructed is perversely designed in ways that end up encouraging destructive behaviors.

At the same time, the welfare state relieves us of our personal responsibility for charity. We don’t have to help the poor ourselves, because the government will do it for us. As Robert Thompson of the University of Pennsylvania noted a century ago, using government money for charitable purposes is a “rough contrivance to lift from the social conscience a burden that should not be either lifted or lightened in any way.”

Another example: One of Obamacare’s key premises is that too many individuals, especially the young and healthy, choose not to buy insurance, hence the individual mandate. In order to protect the irresponsible from the consequences of their decisions — potentially catastrophic medical bills — all of us are now required to purchase a government-designed insurance plan.

Big government reduces all of us to the status of children. We have no responsibility for anything in our lives; therefore, government must take care of us. All we have to do, like children, is give up the freedom to make our own choices — good or bad.

— Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and author of Leviathan on the Right: How Big-Government Conservatism Brought Down the Republican Revolution.