Monday, December 17, 2007

Huckabee's views on food policy

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) is the flavor of the day in the national news media. MSNBC this morning describes him as the closest thing the GOP has to a front runner now. For background, the Washington Post has a recent biographical feature, focusing largely on Huckabee's religion, and an account of Huckabee's successes in Iowa grassroots politics, which led in turn to his national surge in the GOP presidential race.

Huckabee's distinct history of interest in U.S. food policy has received less attention. Motivated in part by his own experience with successful weight loss, Huckabee gave a lot of attention to obesity prevention and related issues while governor. Huckabee discussed these views at length in the introduction to a 2007 book on Obesity, Business, and Public Policy (to which I contributed a chapter about the federal government's checkoff programs). Here is an excerpt:
[H]aving considered the relationship between personal responsibility and government regulation, I arrived at several conclusions, and these conclusions have guided my Healthy Arkansas Initiative.

First, from a moral perspective, I believe we are called to be stewards of everything God has given us -- whether it is the environment, our finances or our health....

The second conclusion that's driven my health policy is the fact that, in America, people have the right to make choices that some might consider stupid. Americans jump bikes over buses, drive golf carts off cliffs, skateboard down stairs and bungee from bridges. While we can't regulate all behavior, we must promote wise choices in hopes of preventing expensive consequences for which we all have to pay.

To help parents make wise choices for their children, in Arkansas we now measure each school child's Body Mass Index and send it home in a private health report. This report is not intended to be a diagnosis, but it is serving as a way to inform parents when their child may have a problem, whether it's too much weight or too little, and they are given information about local resources where help can be found. Again, we believe that, given the information, people will more often than not make the right choice.

Third, our policies have been tempered by the understanding that Ronald McDonald is not Joe Camel. We have refused to make villains of the food industry for giving us what we demand. This means we have not attempted to regulate what people eat by advocating price controls and unhealthy options or by threatening restaurants with lawsuits. I know this puts me at odds with some of the more vocal public health crusaders, but I believe in the wisdom of the free market and we are already starting to see an evolution of the food industry as consumers begin to demand more healthy options.

Fourth, we recognized an obligation to protect consumer and employee safety. If property rights were absolute, the state would have no business enforcing health codes in restaurants to protect our unsuspecting bodies from invaders like E.coli. Just as we find it acceptable to protect workers from asbestos, radiation exposure or loud noises, it seems reasonable that we would find it appropriate to protect them from exposure to the toxic fumes of secondhand smoke. Like personal liberty, property rights are tempered when the exercise of those rights puts others in harm's way.

Finally, and this is a truly groundbreaking point, our policies have been driven by the belief that being well is better than being sick. Whether we are talking about our personal budgets or quality of life, it is more fun and less costly to be well.
Agree or disagree, that's a longer record of thought and reflection about food policy than you will hear from most candidates. Comments are open.


Anonymous said...

Interesting. Taking personal responsibility (for obesity/poor diet) would work if sound advice about healthy eating was the most prevalent kind of message out there.

I hope he and others realize that food advertising is responsible for much of the information parents and kids get about which are the right foods to eat.

Unknown said...

Does Huckabee's support of the free market go as far as to stop subsidizing commodity crops? Or does he just believe that the cheap burgers at McDonald's are a sign of the invisible hand? All in all, I am glad to see one of the presidential candidates is concerned with the nutritional health of this country!