George F. Will’s Aug. 22 column, “Why government needs a diet,” dismissed marketplace solutions to the obesity epidemic as paternalistic. I agree with Mr. Will that our environment is shaped by the marketplace, but he set up a false choice between the marketplace and public policy.
The marketplace is shaped by government policies such as those related to community design, transportation, menu labeling, commodity subsidies and school lunch standards. The goal should be to ensure that policies affecting nutrition and physical activity help promote an environment in which the healthy choice is the easy choice.
Unfortunately, the current marketplace has been created by policies that promote inexpensive, high-calorie food and inactivity. Furthermore, healthy choices might not be readily available in many areas.
Many neighborhoods have abundant fast-food restaurants and lack supermarkets. Unsafe neighborhoods and community infrastructure limit options for physical activity. Individuals can’t be expected to make healthy choices if there are no healthy choices available.
Dismissing sound and targeted policy and environmental approaches as paternalistic, and ignoring the interrelationship between the marketplace and public policies, do nothing to contribute to solving the obesity epidemic.
William H. Dietz, Atlanta
The writer was director of the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1997 to June 2012.