NYTimes' Tavernise Pushes Heaping Helpings of Speech and Food Regulation in the Name of Better Health

Times reporter Sabrina Tavernise pushed nanny-state initatives in "deeply conservative" Oklahoma City on the front of Tuesday's Science Times: "Door to Door in the Heartland, Preaching Healthy Living."

Like a missionary, Michael Bailey, a county health worker, spends his days driving his beat-up Nissan around this city’s poorest neighborhood, spreading the word in barber shops and convenience stores about the benefits of healthy diet and exercise. “Look at the kids,” he said. “Overweight, huffing and wheezing. Their lives will be miserable if this doesn’t change.”

Mr. Bailey believes that food is slowly killing his community here, and signing people up for a program to prevent heart disease is his way of saving souls.

Local governments across the country are creating dozens of such experiments with money from the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act. It is part of a broad national effort set in motion by the law to nudge a health care system geared toward responding to illness to one that tries to stop people from getting sick in the first place. To that end, the law created the $10 billion Prevention and Public Health Fund, the largest-ever federal investment in community prevention.

Tavernise offered criticism from the left, suggesting more regulations on diet are required:

But critics say efforts to influence behavior will have only a modest effect without policy measures like taxes on soda and restrictions on marketing to children to change the food environment.

Oklahoma City, run by a Republican mayor, Mick Cornett, has with little notice won federal prevention money through the new law, a surprising source of financing in this deeply conservative Republican state. The governor, Mary Fallin, turned away $54 million in federal money to help prepare for the new law last year.

Tavernise liked the limits on diet and speech so much she took a second helping:

But that is hard when bad food is the easiest choice, and some public health experts say that no real progress on obesity is possible unless governments regulate junk food with measures like taxes on sugary drinks or prohibitions on marketing to children. New York City has experimented with such policies, but they have been slow to spread, in part because of lobbying by the food industry. In Oklahoma, even a ban on smoking in restaurants and bars has been elusive. “You have to change the drivers,” said Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, “rather than count on people to resist them.”