I love food. And given that Michigan has an obesity rate of 29 percent — the ninth highest in the nation according to Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation — it’s likely that you do, too.

Our doctors may frown, but eating a lot is as American as, well, apple pie. Champion eater Joey Chestnut just ate a world-record 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes at the 94th annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest at New York City’s Coney Island on July 4. There are probably people out there who think consuming 20,000 calories in one sitting is criminal, but in the good ol’ USA, it’s a beloved tradition. There’s a strong feeling of pride I get from walking to Wendy’s with the intention of eating upwards of three Baconators. My countrymen fought and died to defend my basic rights, including the right to eat what I want, when I want. I’m comforted by the fact that no one can take those rights away.

That is, unless the government decides to step in.

On June 24, President Barack Obama discussed his new health care plan with ABC’s Charles Gibson and an audience of supporters and skeptics. The plan laid out by Obama in the session entitled “Questions for the President: Prescription for America” described a public insurance system that would compete with the private insurance options currently available to Americans. But this system will inevitably lead to laws restricting an important freedom of choice that Americans currently have: the freedom to eat what we want.

One particular remark by the president should send up a red flag for every American who loves to bite into a Big Mac. Jane Sturm, an audience member at the event, told Obama about her 105 year old mother, who at 100 required a pacemaker. Despite her mother’s desire for surgery, they couldn’t find a doctor willing to do the procedure because of her age. Finally, they found a surgeon who saw the joy Jane’s mother took from life and was willing undertake the risky operation. Sturm asked Obama, “Outside the medical criteria for prolonging life for somebody elderly, is there any consideration (in your plan) that can be given for a certain spirit, a certain joy of living, quality of life?” Obama responded, “I don’t think we can make judgments based on people’s spirit.”

It sounds cold, but he’s right. There’s no way a public insurance program could stay afloat if it covers high-risk/low-reward procedures for advanced-age patients. It would simply cost too much.

So if Obama’s health care plan is approved, the government will ban substances it deems unhealthy in order to keep its costs from skyrocketing — something that’s already been happening with our current healthcare system. It’ll have to. Smokers, already under attack by big brother lawmakers, will face even tighter restrictions. What’s second on the law books? Fatty foods. Don’t believe me? It’s already happening.

In an effort to improve public fitness, the New York City Board of Health voted unanimously in late 2006 to ban the use of trans fat in the city’s restaurants. Trans fat, which is found in hydrogenated cooking oil used in fried foods, is inexpensive, tastes good and extends the shelf-life of baked goods. Many restaurateurs were outraged that a city health agency would ban a substance that’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration and is obviously harmless when eaten sparingly.

The New York trans fat ban led to similar bans in Philadelphia and other cities, as well as the entire state of California. It didn’t matter to lawmakers that many restaurants switched to palm oil — which has no trans fat but such high quantities of saturated fat that the health benefits of changing oils was negligible. In lawmakers’ minds, they were doing their best to look after their constituents. But in reality, the bans are classic cases of nanny-state governments overextending themselves and taking away citizens’ freedoms.

If city and state governments are willing to ban trans fat now, the federal government will feel even more validated banning “unhealthy” products if America adopts a public health insurance program. Governments in New York and California already think more outlawed foods equals fewer overweight people, which supposedly leads to less money spent on health care. The feds would have even more of an incentive to control what we eat if it could save them money at the same time.

But all these governments are forgetting that we have a basic freedom to choose what foods we eat. Obama’s plan is yet another liberal attack on individual autonomy. From pancakes to paczkis, it puts our favorite sweets in danger.

Chris Koslowski can be reached at cskoslow@umich.edu.

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