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obesity

I’m back from a speaking swing through Nebraska. At the University of Nebraska College of Law in Lincoln, I spoke about food and drink paternalism as exemplified by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s initiatives in New York, with Prof. Steven Willborn providing a counterpoint from a more liberal perspective. At Creighton University Law School in Omaha, I spoke (as I often do) on the ideological state of the law schools, drawing on my 2011 book Schools for Misrule, with commentary from Profs. Ralph Whitten and Sara Stadler.

Both events were well attended but I was especially pleased at the strong turnout for the talk in Lincoln on food and the nanny state, a new speech I hadn’t tried out before on a general audience. Here’s a description:

The public is increasingly in revolt against “nanny state” interventions, from Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to limit soda sizes in New York, to efforts to ban Happy Meals in San Francisco. Some thinkers dismiss concern about paternalism as merely trivial and personal, not on a par with issues acknowledged as “serious” such as police abuse, free speech, surveillance, and the proper functioning of the legal system. Left unchecked, however, the project of paternalism quickly generates very serious problems in each of those other areas: it gives police and enforcers great arbitrary power, hands a special government megaphone to some speakers while stifling others, funnels uncomfortably personal information into government hands, and fuels abusive litigation. No matter what you think of potato chips, if your interests are in liberty and good government, you should be paying attention.

I’m next scheduled to speak on the food police Sept. 23 at a Heritage Foundation panel discussion with Baylen Linnekin, Nita Ghei, and J. Justin Wilson, hosted by Daren Bakst. Details here. More on my fall speaking schedule here.

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Nanny state roundup

by Walter Olson on July 12, 2013

  • “Sneaky public-health messaging appears to be on the upswing across the country” [Baylen Linnekin, NY Post; earlier here, here, etc.]
  • Scotland: “Parents warned they could face court for lighting up at home in front of kids” [The Sun] And Sweden: “Law professor calls for ban on parents drinking” (in presence of kids) [The Local via @FreeRangeKids]
  • Speaking of tobacco: “Former German Chancellor Stays One Step Ahead of European Nannies, Hoards Cigarettes” [Matthew Feeney on Helmut Schmidt]
  • Speaking of alcohol: ObamaCare slush fund bankrolling anti-booze advocacy in Pennsylvania [Mark Hemingway, earlier]
  • To fix the nation’s weight problem, socially discourage processed foods. Right? Wrong [David Freedman, Atlantic]
  • Mark Steyn on federal regulation requiring emergency bunny plan for magicians [NRO, more, earlier]
  • Run for your life! It’s a falling toilet seat! [Free-Range Kids]

Aside from the important employment law implications linked last week in this space, the American Medical Association’s decision to reclassify obesity as a disease has implications for Medicaid and private reimbursement of therapy (“now coverage policy must catch up to that consensus,” exulted an officer of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery) and more pervasively for nanny-state initiatives: “Already, Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, has cited the AMA declaration to boost his group’s efforts to ban junk food and tax soft drinks.” [Mike Tanner] (& welcome Joe Palazzolo, WSJ Law Blog readers)

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  • EEOC guidance lost big in last week’s SCOTUS employment decisions [Daniel Fisher, Michael Greve]
  • Classification of obesity as a “disease” has huge employment law implications [Jon Hyman]
  • EEOC goes after BMW, Dollar General over criminal background checks on job candidates [ABA Journal, Althouse, Michael Carvin and Eric Dreiband ("The Government Checks Criminal Records. Why Can't Private Employers?"), Employer's Lawyer, earlier] “So the gov’t convicts minorities at a disproportionate rate. Then the gov’t sues companies that checks those records, smart.” [Surya Gunasekara] Why not ban Google too? (Don’t give them ideas, please) [ Mike Riggs]
  • Wage and hour suits soar, record number filed so far in 2013 [Corp Counsel, Overtime Lawyer, I-Sight] Related: what’s wrong with the epithet “wage theft” [Hyman]
  • Employer’s claim: I can’t get due process from Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities [Daniel Schwartz]
  • The First Amendment protects our speech rights against the government, not against those we deal with in the workplace who may disapprove [Schwartz and more on Connecticut employment proposal] NLRB “attempting to sanction a California newspaper despite a federal appeals court’s decision that such a ruling threatened the publisher’s First Amendment rights.” [Washington Free Beacon]
  • “Bergen, Passaic County towns saddled with costs as lawsuits filed by police add up” [Bergen Record via NJLRA]

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Food roundup

by Walter Olson on May 29, 2013

  • NYT op-ed: let’s pay folks to cook at home, they’ll never figure it out otherwise [Amy Alkon on Kristin Wartman attempt to revive old Wages for Housework campaign with foodie spin] “You don’t have a moral obligation to cook” [Maggie Koerth-Baker]
  • “The Making of the Obesity Epidemic: How Food Activism Led Public Health Astray” [Helen Lee, Breakthrough Institute via Julian Morris] Research suggesting benign effects of slight overweight slammed by public health profs who fear it might complicate desired policy narrative [Nature; more from Trevor Butterworth on Walter Willett vs. Katherine Flegal] Lessons of Denmark’s fat tax [Christopher Snowdon, IEA]
  • Will ‘elf-and-safety spell an end to Gloucestershire’s annual Cooper’s Hill cheese-rolling event? [Telegraph]
  • Bloomberg’s NYC health dept. can’t find restaurateur to operate a cafe in its headquarters, too many rules [NY Post]
  • Curbs on Italian imports relaxed: “The war on salami finally ends” [David Frum]
  • Most senseless cheese ban ever? In the case of Mimolette, it mite be [Hans Bader, earlier]
  • Diversity in apple varieties has plunged in the past century, right? Maybe not [Alex Tabarrok]

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Food roundup

by Walter Olson on April 29, 2013

  • Colony collapse disorder, the honeybee ailment, was expected to have a dire effect on U.S. agriculture. Market-driven adjustments have helped prevent that [Walter Thurman, PERC]
  • Adieu, Mimolette? Feds may be readying crackdown on imports of artisanal cheeses [Baylen Linnekin] “Food Safety Modernization Act Far More Costly Than Supporters Claimed” [Hans Bader, earlier here, here]
  • “There may be no hotter topic in law schools right now than food law and policy” [Harvard Law School, quoted by Baylen Linnekin] New book, haven’t seen yet: Jayson Lusk, “The Food Police: A Well-Fed Manifesto About the Politics of Your Plate” [Amazon]
  • Further thoughts on hot coffee injuries and lawsuits [Ted Frank]
  • The gain in plains is mainly due to grains: residents of mountains and high-altitude areas have less obesity [Edible Geography] Restaurant labeling: per one study, “some evidence that males ordered more calories when labels were present” [Tim Carney] NYT’s Mark Bittman endorses tax on prepared food [SmarterTimes] “Michael Poppins: When the nanny acquired a police force” [Mark Steyn, NR on Mayor Bloomberg]
  • Who’s demonizing Demon Rum these days, together with Wicked Wine and Baleful Beer? Check out an “alcohol policy” conference [Angela Logomasini, Open Market] Scottish government lobbies itself to be more prohibitionist [Christopher Snowdon]
  • Bill filed by Rep Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) would cut off taxpayer funding of food-bashing propaganda [Michelle Minton; earlier here, etc.]

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Food and farm roundup

by Walter Olson on April 10, 2013

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Food roundup

by Walter Olson on March 19, 2013

  • If you thought “finger in chili” was bad, meet the Utah couple arrested on charges of planting razor blade shards in doughnuts and swallowing some [KSL, Daily Mail]
  • My talk a few weeks ago as part of Cato Institute panel on nanny state [YouTube, Bruce Majors]
  • New Reason-RUPE public opinion survey finds public broadly opposed to food and drink bans [Sullum]
  • Feds’ bad advice on polyunsaturated fat: more damaging than any mass tort in sight? [David Oliver] More: Hans Bader.
  • Coroner blames woman’s death on Coca-Cola addiction [TV NZ] Monster Beverage: natural causes, not caffeine toxicity, killed Maryland teen [Reuters, NYT, earlier] More: Jacob Sullum.
  • Oh, CSPI, thou contradictest thyself [Baylen Linnekin; more from him on parents' and kids' food choices quoting me, NYC soda ban]
  • “Bloomberg limits seder portions” [Purim spoof, New York Jewish Week]
  • Kelly Brownell, guru of obesity-reduction-through-coercion formerly based at Yale, named dean of public policy school at Duke;
  • “A Knife, a Walmart Birthday Cake and a Frenzy of Overreaction” [Free-Range Kids] Mardi Gras perennial: can you buy king cake with baby figurine already in it? [same, earlier]
  • Now they tell us: NYT book review not conspicuously enthusiastic about Michael Moss anti-food-biz book hyped to the rafters in NYT magazine three weeks earlier [Ira Stoll, SmarterTimes, our take]

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My new op-ed at the Daily Caller is their “most shared” this morning. Excerpt:

On Monday, Judge Tingling struck down the soda ban in a sweeping opinion that does everything but hand Mayor Poppins his umbrella and carpetbag. This wasn’t just a temporary restraining order putting the regulation on hold for a few weeks. The judge struck down the ban permanently both on the merits (“fraught with arbitrary and capricious consequences”) and as overstepping the rightful legal powers of the New York City Department of Health…

[For] the mayor and his public health crew… the biggest reproach in the decision isn’t in being found to have gotten the facts wrong, it’s being found to have violated the law.

And if anyone is expected to know and play by the rules, it’s a nanny.

Michael Grynbaum, New York Times:

[Bloomberg's] administration seemed caught off guard by the decision. Before the judge ruled, the mayor had called for the soda limits to be adopted by cities around the globe; he now faces the possibility that one of his most cherished endeavors will not come to fruition before he leaves office, if ever. …

The measure was already broadly unpopular: In a New York Times poll conducted last August, 60 percent of city residents said it was a bad idea for the Bloomberg administration to pass the limits…

Ross Sandler, a professor at New York Law School, said city laws deemed “arbitrary and capricious” had frequently been reinstated upon appeal.

The Times also profiles Judge Tingling and reports on reactions by New Yorkers in the street (not favorable toward the ban). Coverage from yesterday, including my podcast with Cato’s Caleb Brown, here. NYU’s Rick Hills, as often happens, takes a different view. (& Point of Law; and more) Update: as of March 15 my Daily Caller piece has been recommended on Facebook 3,700 times, surely a record for me.

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In a sweeping decision, trial court judge Milton Tingling has struck down the ban on sugary drinks decreed by the New York City Department of Health, which had been scheduled to go into effect tomorrow. I discuss the ruling in a Cato podcast above. I’m also quoted by Jillian Kay Melchior at National Review Online:

It was a sweeping ruling, because the judge said not only was the ban arbitrary and capricious, but it also went beyond the public-health agency’s powers under the statute. It meant that, even if Bloomberg went back and got a better factual justification for it, he had no legal right to do it. The agency just plain lacked the power. It means that the powers that public-health agencies claim because of emergency dangers like a raging epidemic — they don’t get to rule by dictate about other elements of our life that are not emergencies.

Other coverage: New York Post, CBS New York, Moin Yahya, David Henderson. As the law’s effective date approached, city residents were learning more about its unpleasant effects on such everyday activities as ordering beverages to split with pizza delivery, mixers at nightclubs, table pitchers to serve kids’ birthday parties, and, most recently, coffee, the subject of a virally famous poster from the local Dunkin’ Donuts operation.

P.S. And now I’ve got a Daily Caller piece out on the decision. See follow-up post here.

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A press release from George Washington University Prof. John Banzhaf describes his latest stunt as follows: “Undergrads Required To Lobby For Obama Policy.” In this case, it’s more for a policy identified with Michael Bloomberg — limits on the size of sweetened drinks — which students were asked to promote in letters to their own lawmakers. I’ve got a write-up at Cato at Liberty, where I list some of the other occasions on which Overlawyered readers have met the gadfly professor. (& Katherine Mangu-Ward, Center for Consumer Freedom) Update: many reactions, including another press release from Prof. Banzhaf.

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“That is quite a correction in today’s Times to Mark Bittman’s column the other day about sugar and diabetes,” notes Ira Stoll. Bittman’s column began with the striking opener “Sugar is indeed toxic” and went on to promote a far-reaching regulatory crackdown on sweetened foods. But it soon came under sustained attack from various commentators (more) for misstating recent findings about the health effects of sugar in the diet; it’s true that sugar intake tends to cause obesity and obesity itself causes diabetes, but it’s a separate, unresolved question whether sugar by itself instigates diabetes through some mechanism of action not common to other highly caloric foods.

Here is the correction:

Mark Bittman’s column on Thursday incorrectly described findings from a recent epidemiological study of the relationship of sugar consumption to diabetes. The study found that increased sugar in a population’s food supply was linked to higher rates of diabetes — independent of obesity rates — but stopped short of stating that sugar caused diabetes. It did not find that “obesity doesn’t cause diabetes: sugar does.” Obesity is, in fact, a major risk factor for Type 2 diabetes, as the study noted.

On Sunday the New York Times published a long, breathless screed attacking food company marketing (“Inside the hyper-engineered, savagely marketed, addiction-creating battle for ‘stomach share.'”) The article itself furnishes an example of empty, hype-fueled journalistic calories, or so I suggest in a new op-ed at the Daily Caller.

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At Duke on Friday

by Walter Olson on February 20, 2013

On Friday at Duke Law School, the Duke Forum for Law and Social Change is giving its annual symposium, this year’s subject being legal approaches to obesity prevention. The organizers have kindly invited me to participate in a late morning panel, where my views are likely to differ from those of the other participants; details here.

If you’d like to book me to speak at your own event or campus, contact me directly at editor – at – overlawyered – dot – com, through the Cato Institute’s Events staff, or, if you’re associated with a Federalist Society chapter, through the Society’s national office.

Food roundup

by Walter Olson on January 8, 2013

  • New thinner-isn’t-healthier study should give pause [Paul Campos, NYT]
  • Inspectors order Minnesota soda shop to yank candy cigarettes, bubble gum cigars [Daily Caller]
  • Cleveland might have its own version of Pike Place or Reading Terminal Market, if not for… [Nick Gillespie]
  • Regulators took it down: “San Francisco’s Libertarian Food Market Is Closing” [Baylen Linnekin]
  • How brutal is vegetarianism to animals? [Mike Archer via Tyler Cowen]
  • Crazy: S.F. mulls zoning ban on new restaurants to protect existing ones [Linnekin] How Chicago suppresses food trucks [Katherine Mangu-Ward]
  • Federal calorie labeling rules will burden restaurants [Wash. Times]

Asset unfreeze

by Walter Olson on January 3, 2013

Probably a parody: New York mayor announces ice cream buyback program [Alex Tabarrok]

Federal fat tax?

by Walter Olson on November 20, 2012

Taking advantage of the media bubble arising from the announced shutdown of Hostess snack-cake operations, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) is back with a bill proposing to deny the deduction as ordinary business expenses of money spent advertising kids’ snacks. Kay Bell and Kelly Phillips Erb apply deserved ridicule (via Paul Caron/TaxProf).

Plus: Baylen Linnekin on Denmark’s planned repeal of a pioneering fat tax (earlier) and the rejection by voters in two California cities of soda taxes.

Discrimination law roundup

by Walter Olson on November 20, 2012

  • In DC today? I’ll be commenting at Cato on new Russell Nieli book on affirmative action [details]
  • EEOC continues to pressure employers over use of criminal background checks in hiring process [Hans Bader, Daniel Schwartz, Jon Hyman, earlier]
  • Bill in Congress would require employers to make ADA-like accommodation for pregnancy/childbirth [Hyman]
  • “Religious freedom and the nondiscrimination norm” [Rick Garnett, Prawfs] What is supposed to make discrimination so tempting, anyway? [Bryan Caplan, EconLib]
  • Lawsuit alleges that group car rental discount for members of gay group constitutes unlawful discrimination against straights [Volokh]
  • Complainants argue in Strasbourg that UK failure to more fully accommodate Christians violates Euro human rights law [Telegraph]
  • Push for ADA coverage of obesity raises controversy [Christina Wilkie, HuffPo]