Whether the Austin City Council is banning plastic bags from businesses or attempting to monitor your food choices, they seem to think they know what’s best.
This past Thursday, council members considered a resolution that would have led to the prohibition of fast food restaurants “that are located in proximity to schools, parks, child care centers, libraries, and recreation centers”, all in a vain attempt to decrease childhood obesity. Thankfully they failed to adopt it, but it is troubling that it was even up for consideration.
The proposal would have directed the city manager to work with other local partners (such as school districts) to identify these fast food establishments and come up with a report to help the council implement the desired changes by 2016.
Some of the desired changes in the resolution besides banning fast food included encouraging convenience stores to stock healthy food. Would a tax for not buying healthy food have come next? You laugh, but this is Austin we’re talking about.
Council members claim current fast food establishments in the designated “Healthy Food Zones” could have stayed open, although the resolution didn’t specifically say so. Of course, this would have created a crony capitalistic marketplace, shielding established restaurants from fresh competition.
Food trucks could have been on the target list as well. The resolution models its desires off a plan that restricts mobile vendors from schools and other locations children frequent. One must wonder if “Keep Austin Regulated” would be a more accurate marketing slogan for the city had this ordinance gone into effect.
Besides just being wrong philosophically, a “Healthy Food Zone” ordinance has already been tried in the real world and failed. Los Angeles actually passed a similar proposal to what Austin considered back in 2008. A study conducted by the RAND Corporation found the policy would not affect obesity, and by 2012 Los Angeles witnessed a 3 percent increase in their obesity rate.
Why? Perhaps because the problem wasn’t too much access to junk food, but a lack of resources and time for individuals to feed their families’ healthier food. Of course, cutting the cost of local government is never offered as a solution.
Fortunately, Austin City Council rejected the proposal by a 4-3 vote–still a chilling thought knowing how close public officials were to passing such an unhealthy policy.