I don’t normally answer or comment on contributors’ submissions to the Times. I have plenty of voice within this newspaper after all, and there is no need for me to insert myself in everything. There are times, however, when a person as opinionated as me can’t help but offer a rebuttal to an important argument, and today will be one of those days.
The column “Common Sense Health” appears in the Times weekly. It is written by a medical doctor, Dr. Ken Walker (who writes under the pseudonym of Dr. W. Gifford-Jones, MD). This week’s column is called “An excess of stupidity is still the problem”, referring to the argument that people often simply don’t think straight and they make poor health decisions. I wholeheartedly agree, but I also can’t help but wonder – is it not people’s right to be stupid? More importantly, is having the government think FOR people really the best solution to the problem?
“An excess of stupidity…” begins with a story of a school that recently had a gelato eating contest, with the contest winner consuming 25 cups of gelato. This would have amounted to 425 grams of sugar, or about 10 cans of regular pop consumed in a short time span. Dr. Walker’s sentiment on this is clear – the school messed up. I would have to agree once again, that schools should be leaders in promoting healthy eating, and should certainly not be involved in serving up dangerous amounts of sugar to students in their care.
Following these two thoughts – that people are stupid when it comes to their health, and that schools should not be organizing contests that are extremely unhealthy at best and dangerous at worst – the opinions of Dr. Walker and myself split in vastly different directions.
“Tobacco should be outlawed,” writes Dr. Walker. “If that can’t be done, then increase the taxes higher still.” He is correct to assume that it simply cannot be done. People don’t take kindly to their freedoms being stripped. People who have decades-long addictions to tobacco would need to get their cigarettes from somewhere, opening up an even greater reliance on contraband tobacco and criminalization that would unnecessarily clog up the judicial system. Remember, contraband tobacco is tax free, and therefore contributes nothing to the health care system, unlike stamped tobacco. I am neutral on the idea of an increase in tobacco taxes, but let’s not forget that governments in this country operate “for the people” and are democratically elected. Nobody consents to the government being their new “mommy” or “nanny”.
“Companies that produce junk food should be charged in a court of law with knowingly causing illness, and they should have to pay for the costs,” Dr. Walker continues. Oh dear – where do I even start with this one? Do you enjoy potato chips? I enjoy potato chips. And ice cream, and many other things that I know are bad for me. Isn’t it my choice to enjoy these things? Surely Dr. Walker knows that it is possible to enjoy junk food in moderation?
There is some consolation in the fact that Dr. Walker doesn’t use his column to throw out the much overused argument that junk food should be subject to huge additional taxes. It may sound ridiculous to someone with a doctor’s salary, but poor people really can’t afford to be taxed anymore. A nice healthy meal filled with vegetables and fresh, balanced ingredients totaling 600-700 calories sounds lovely, but the odds of doing it for less than $10-15 per serving are low.
A box of one particular Canadian favourite – Kraft Dinner – will pack over 1,200 calories for under $2. It’s the most commonly sold grocery item in Canada. I’ll never waste my breath arguing that Kraft Dinner isn’t “junk”, but I’d rather a poor person eat it than not eat at all. In this economy, with my own grocery bill easily over $1,300 per month for a family of four, it seems likely that more people are turning to junk thanks to the unaffordability of… well… everything. Something that packs a bunch of carbs for very little cost is very appealing when you haven’t eaten in over 24 hours. I am sick of hearing about “more tax” as the solution. More tax would make the problem worse.
Mental illness is a real thing, and that includes eating disorders. Poverty is a real thing, and that creates a need for cheap, not always healthy calories. Enjoying a nice “once in a while” treat with one’s family is sometimes a much needed and well-deserved break from the stresses of life. Labelling all of the above as being the result of “stupid people” is, quite frankly, stupid. I’ll be damned if someone is going to tell me that I can’t give my kids ice cream, or put out a few bowls of chips during their birthday party, or see their eyes light up the odd time we surprise them with McDonalds. Wars were fought and won by brave men and women so that we could be free, not “free to be ruled”. There are those of us – a lot of us – who don’t live to set a record for who can grow the oldest. For many people including myself, having a “good time” is just as important, and perhaps more important, than being here for a “long time”. In a free society, that is our choice to make.
Let us not forget that in February, Dr. Walker’s column explored whether alcoholic beverages are dangerous for health in the wake of a study suggesting that consuming alcohol increases the risk of disease. His response on the matter was something of a “meh”, suggesting that it probably doesn’t matter enough to care. At the time I thought, “cheers to that!” If we’re allowed to choose what we drink, let’s also keep the right to choose what we eat. A nanny state is not a democracy.