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Monkey Business

Consumer freedom – at what price?

The New Falcon Herald has been in circulation for more than three years. I’ve been writing the Monkey Chronicles for as long. I believe that everyone agrees with my editorials because it’s rare that someone sends me contradictory comments, except for Phil Kenny and Tom Preble.However, last month I received an e-mail from a woman who thought I might be one of those radical animal rights activists because of a statement I made in my Feb. 3 column lambasting exotic animal trade. I also stated in the column that we need to ban all animals as pets except dogs, cats and small birds. It’s an idea to mitigate the vast numbers of unwanted dogs and cats that end up in shelters each year – 6 to 8 million. It’s an idea to mitigate the continuing demise of the Florida Everglades that is now overpopulated with pythons, discarded by humans who once thought they made cute pets.I don’t like the throw-away-society we’ve become – bottom line.The person who e-mailed me referred me to a Web site – the Center for Consumer Freedom. I visited, I read – and, yippee – fodder for this column.According to the Web site, “The Center for Consumer Freedom is a nonprofit coalition of restaurants, food companies and consumers working together to promote personal responsibility and protect consumer choices.”Their definition of consumer freedom is “the right of adults and parents to choose what they eat, drink and how they enjoy themselves. Defending enjoyment is what we’re all about.”The center also touts a no-fear policy when taking on groups that build strong images through “slick public relations campaigns.” A statement on the center’s home page: “Remember: Even an ugly baby can be named Tiffany.”What?This consumer advocate group targets “health care enforcers … meddling bureaucrats and violent radicals.” It seems their No. 1 nemesis is People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a staunch, often radical, defender of animals used for food, research and other purposes.Mothers Against Drunk Driving also is in the center’s line of fire. They say that today MADD campaigns “only work on responsible adults … abusers are not affected by … red ribbon campaigns. MADD ignores the truly drunk drivers … and goes after social drinkers with massive PR scare campaigns.”Then, there’s the obesity issue. Government nosing in on what America eats has lit up the center’s passion for freedom of choice like a Fourth of July sky.”Obesity is a societal problem,” said Dr. Laura Kettel-Kahn, the Center for Disease Control deputy chief for chronic disease and nutrition, in a recent interview.”Obesity is a disease … an eating disorder … similar to alcoholism – there are physiological components,” Kettel-Kahn said.”Some folks have thought of it so strongly in terms of self responsibility, but it’s more than that – it’s the environment.”When the environment is negatively affecting the public, government steps in. Think about seat belts, helmet laws, mandatory vaccinations, smoking cessation programs – all meant to ease the ill effects of “choice.”But the Center for Consumer Freedom decries government intervention – in many situations – and espouses personal responsibility.I talked to Justin Wilson, senior research analyst at the center. “We carry a banner for consumer freedom,” he said. They also carry a banner for overweight Americans.”Obesity is not impacting others,” Wilson added.Statistics from the CDC show that almost two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese, I said. Childhood obesity rates have tripled from 1980 to 2004.Obesity related diseases impact health costs. In 2005, the CDC estimated that 20.8 million Americans have diabetes. Type 2 diabetes, associated with obesity, physical inactivity and increased age, accounts for about 90 to 95 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. The National Institutes of Health reports that 80 percent of people with Type 2 diabetes are overweight.Wilson said obesity statistics could be skewed in any direction. It doesn’t take science or statistics to prove that obesity is on the rise, I said. Go to a mall. Diabetes on the rise: common sense or government lies?There is nothing that proves obesity shortens life spans, Wilson said. Besides, he said, not everyone believes that “extending life spans is the ultimate end.”I can’t argue that. How many times have we heard, “Gotta die of something.” I’ve worked in health care, and I’ve seen that carefree attitude replaced with, “Whatever it takes, doc.” And “whatever it takes” to reverse those bad choices is contributing to soaring health care costs.Although Wilson confirmed the center’s commitment to promoting personal responsibility, he also defended fat America.Smoking: People gain weight when they give up the nicotine. “It’s a trade off,” he said.Sleep deprivation: Studies have shown that people who sleep less are overweight. “Sleeping has dropped off since the 1960s,” Wilson said.Women in the work force: Stay-at-home moms expend more calories. “Do you know the amount of energy it takes per hour to raise children?” he asked. Nope. I’m at a computer all day.Developers: Wilson cited the lack of sidewalks in the design of residential neighborhoods.It seemed to me that the organization is excusing the idea of personal responsibility.It’s not about excuses, he said. It’s about freedom of choice. OK.”The common mantra among people is ‘sometimes I just want a hamburger,'” Wilson said.My common mantra is “there is no freedom without responsibility.” Besides, no one is banning hamburgers, hot dogs or apple pie. New York City banned trans-fats from restaurants. So what?I don’t want someone controlling my choices, but I don’t want my choices to impact others or the health of the economy. I want to make educated choices. Public health campaigns about smart nutrition are valuable.The environment, from the Everglades to the hospital setting, is affected by the choices we make. If it takes a little peer pressure to create change, so be it.Protecting consumer choice is a respectful mission, but all too often the environment needs protecting from consumer choices.marylou@newfalconherald.com

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