In a couple of recent posts, including part six of Character vs. Chemistry, I wrote that the Grand Plans designed by The Anointed to battle obesity will fail because those plans are based on the belief that weight loss is about character, not chemistry. Well, in the interest of fairness, I feel obligated to point out that not every Grand Plan imposed on us by The Anointed fails because of biochemical ignorance. Most fail because of economic ignorance.
In fact, to believe that the typical Grand Plan proposed by The Anointed will actually work, you pretty much have to be an economic illiterate. You have to believe, for example, that young people who already refuse to buy inexpensive health insurance will flock to buy insurance that costs three times as much if you just run some cute ads encouraging them to spend the holidays wearing pajamas and drinking hot chocolate and #GetTalking with their parents about insurance. That’s how The Anointed believe it should work, so by gosh, that’s how it will work.
Which brings me another Grand Plan to battle obesity: spending taxpayer money to make sure plenty of fruits and vegetables are available in poor neighborhoods. That’s why so many poor people are fat, ya see … they don’t have access to the magical fruits and vegetables that guarantee weight loss. And of course, if we just make the magical fruits and vegetables available, poor people will flock to buy them (elbowing young people flocking to buy expensive insurance out of the way in the process), eat those vegetables, and then lose weight. That’s how The Anointed believe it should work, so by gosh, that’s how it will work.
If you’re a long-time reader, you may recall that I’ve pointed out the economic fallacies in that Grand Plan before. Here’s what I wrote in a post three years ago:
Here’s a simple economics lesson: businesses don’t determine what consumers will buy. Consumer behavior determines what businesses will produce and sell. If fast food restaurants thrive in poor neighborhoods while stores that sell fresh fruit and vegetables don’t, there’s a good reason for it. Using tax dollars to bring more fruits and vegetables to areas where people don’t buy fruits and vegetables isn’t going to reduce childhood obesity. It’s just going to lead to a lot of rotten fruits and vegetables.
In fact, one corner-store owner in Philadelphia agreed, at the urging of The Anointed, to sell 15-cent bags of apple slices so poor kids would eat more fruit. He ended up throwing most of them away – at a loss of $500 to his business.
Here’s what I wrote in another post two years ago:
Even if we’re talking about neighborhoods where there truly aren’t as many vegetables being sold, people get the causality backwards. The local residents aren’t fat because they don’t have access to vegetables. The vegetables aren’t available because people don’t buy them.
… Here’s what people like Mrs. Obama can’t seem to grasp: if enough people in those neighborhoods wanted lettuce and fruit in their kids’ lunches, plenty of greedy capitalists would happily move in to sell them.
… No problem then. The government’s on the job and planning a comprehensive response. That of course means a really expensive and ultimately futile response.
Well, I guess that depends on your definition of really expensive. Since I don’t work in the federal government, a figure of, say, $500 million sounds to me like a huge waste if some comprehensive response doesn’t work. (I mean, geez, imagine if you spent nearly double that on a crappy web site that didn’t work and then had to go spend even more to get it fixed.)
But of course, part of what makes it so awesomely wonderful about being a member of The Anointed is that you get to spend other people’s money to institute your Grand Plans. No need to start small to test your theory. No need to try opening Uncle Sam’s Cheep Fruits and Veggie Stand in a few poor neighborhoods to see if people eat more vegetables and lose weight. No need to stock some existing grocery stores with cheap fruit and track the sales. Nope, if you’re a member of The Anointed, you may as well go whole-hog and plunk down $500 million in taxpayer dollars.
With the obesity epidemic in full swing and millions of American living in neighborhoods where fruits and vegetables are hard to come by, the Obama administration thought it saw a solution: fund stores that will stock fresh, affordable produce in these deprived areas.
But now, three years and $500 million into the federal Healthy Food Financing Initiative, there’s a problem: A study suggests it’s not working.
Adding supermarkets to areas with short supplies of fresh produce does not lead to improvements in residents’ diets or health outcomes, according to a report published Monday in the February issue of Health Affairs.
So The Anointed in government thought they saw an untapped market for fruits and vegetables that the greedy capitalists somehow missed, but it turns out they were wrong. Boy, I’ll bet nobody saw that coming.
When a grocery store was opened in one Philadelphia food desert, 26.7 percent of residents made it their main grocery store and 51.4 percent indicated using it for any food shopping, the report found. But among the population that used the new supermarket, the researchers saw no significant improvement in BMI, fruit and vegetable intake, or perceptions of food accessibility, although there was a significant improvement in perception of accessibility to fruits and vegetables.
Well, if people perceive that they have more access to fruits and vegetables without actually buying them, that’s certainly worth $500 million … although it would have been cheaper to just run TV ads telling them that fruits and vegetables were in great supply.
The report was authored by a team of researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Penn State University’s departments of sociology, anthropology, and demography. The study was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences with support from the Population Research Institute, although neither had a hand in the research design, collection, or analysis.
Awesome. So we’re spending taxpayer money to study why spending taxpayer money on yet another Grand Plan didn’t work. Is this a great country or what?
The study needs to be replicated in other neighborhoods and other parts of the United States to confirm or refute these findings, said lead researcher Steven Cummins, professor of population health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The results do, however, mirror findings in the U.K., where researchers created a similar comparison of two neighborhoods in Scotland and observed no net effect on fruit and vegetable intake.
Wow. It’s almost as if the laws of economics apply all over the world. But we don’t know that for sure, so we really need to spend more taxpayer money to confirm that spending taxpayer money on yet another Grand Plan didn’t work.
And if the conclusion is borne out, it would suggest that policymakers rethink the Healthy Food Financing Initiative if they want to promote healthier eating and healthier citizens.
Hmmm, let’s see if I can remember what The Anointed conclude when a Grand Plan fails … okay, it came to me:
- The plan was good but people didn’t implement it correctly because they’re stupid.
- The plan was undermined by people who opposed it because they’re evil.
- The plan didn’t go far enough – we need to do same thing again only bigger.
Cummins said in an email that lawmakers ought to consider policies that will change community behavior to incorporate healthy food into everyday diets.
“These might include economic initiatives such as taxes on unhealthy foods and subsidies on healthy foods, marketing initiatives that focus on in-store promotion of healthy food, and programs that focus on skills related to buying and cooking components of a balanced diet,” Cummins said.
Yeah, what we need to do is spend even more taxpayer money trying to tell people what to eat – because it’s worked so well so far. Then if that doesn’t work, we can spend more taxpayer money to study why spending taxpayer didn’t work. Oh, and let’s tax the unhealthy foods too.
Anyone care to bet that The Anointed would correctly identify the “unhealthy” foods?