by Merlin Hernandez

I always find the debate between self-monitored social responsibility and government regulation to be interesting. One side of the discourse brings up issues of free market forces, freedom of choice and profitability. The other side takes a broader view of the societal good. Revelations of corporate ethical deficiencies over the last 10 years might see appropriate mechanisms to fall on the side of regulatory intervention. In looking at  the fast food industry and its alleged contribution to the current obesity crisis, we see exponentially increasing cases of diabetes (including alarming growth in juvenile diabetes), heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, kidney disease – most of which are diet and lifestyle related. The social responsibility of the food industry becomes more pointedly relevant.

Until economies come to grips with the effects of our integrated global financial systems, world recession will be with us for a while. This means unemployment and under-employment will continue to be challenges, and the responsibility for health care will increasingly revert to state programs like Medicaid. The equation looks something like shrinking economy=contracting revenues=unstable employment=less resources for health care. Plotted against unhealthy food offerings=poor food choices=declining national health=strained health care system. What is a responsible government to do? Many of the medical conditions that are diet related are lifelong diseases with the cost of care creating havoc with the viability of Medicaid and Medicare. There are justifiable fears that these programs may soon be obliterated by the burden of current demand. This will only be exacerbated by an aging population.

So I opt for at least one tactic to safeguard future national health, in the face of failing self-regulation of the food industry, to be legislating social responsibility – less sugar, less salt, zero transfat, smaller bottles, overall healthier food offerings. New York City has recently banned sugar drinks from being sold or included in lunch menus in city schools and is trying to legislate the size of sugary drinks that can be offered for sale to the public. These are only small steps but ones that I believe are in the right direction.