The Tragedy of Government Health Advice

Awesome looking Scottish highlands cow (cc photo by foxypar4)

Awesome looking Scottish highlands cow (cc photo by foxypar4)

Jane Black reminds us that government efforts to dispense nutritional advice are often compromised by interest group politics:

Policymakers have long seen the wisdom of this strategy. And when they have strayed from it, the political heat has been intense. In 1977, a Senate select committee led by Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D.) was forced to beat a hasty retreat after it initially recommended that Americans could cut their intake of saturated fat by reducing their consumption of red meat and dairy products. Its revised guidelines suggested choosing “meat, poultry and fish that will reduce saturated-fat intake.”

McGovern, whose constituents included many cattle ranchers, lost his seat in 1980. Since then, in case after case, the guidelines have refrained from suggesting that Americans eat less of just about anything.

I don’t think we should be 100 percent fatalistic about this, there are countries whose political systems are able to function better than this. But the US is a major agricultural producer, so it’s semi-inevitable—in a bad way—that agriculture-related endeavors are going to disproportionately reflect producer interests. Which is really too bad because we obviously spend a fortune in this country on health care expenditures whose purpose, presumably, is to improve health outcomes. And yet we all know perfectly well that improved nutrion is a more cost-effective way of achieving this goal.