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Policy: Environment & Energy

Big Ideas: On serving sizes, sales taxes and green eating

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PennAve,Joseph Lawler,Economy,Energy and Environment,Budgets and Deficits,Think Tanks,Magazine

Deborah Cohen for the Rand Corp.: One size rarely fits all. You wouldn't buy clothes from a store offering only the largest sizes, blindly accepting the word of the proprietor that a super-sized pair of slacks is what you want and need. Yet that's what many Americans do every day when they walk into restaurants and consume meals large enough to satisfy the appetites and nutritional needs of multiple people.

Wearing clothes twice your size may make you look silly, but it hardly poses a health threat. Regularly eating oversized restaurant portions, on the other hand, does. Recent analyses indicate that more than 96 percent of restaurants are serving meals that do not meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, making dining out a risk factor for obesity and chronic diseases ...

It long has been known that serving sizes have gotten way out of control and that gargantuan portions substantially contribute to the obesity epidemic. Yet because so many people — at least two of three adults and one of three children — are overweight or obese, portion size hardly could be more important.

Restaurants seem unable to resist the urge to over-serve. They usually serve too much fat, sugar and too many calories, while giving scant attention to the fruits, vegetables and whole grains necessary for optimal health. The creation of conditions that are safe and predictable is the cornerstone of public health and well-being, and standards are the best way to get there. There are standards for building construction, cars, roads and to protect workers from exposure to toxins, dangers and exploitation. And standards for serving sizes of alcoholic beverages to allow individuals to gauge their risk of inebriation.

Why not standards to stabilize the amount of food being served away from home, so people will know, for example, that a burger here is the same as a burger there?

 

LAND OF 10,000 TAXES

Joseph Henchman and Richard Borean for the tax foundation: A number of states are calling on Congress to authorize them to collect sales taxes on interstate Internet transactions, including at a congressional hearing early this month. The states claim that they have simplified their sales tax systems so that compliance is no longer burdensome.

The growing number of sales tax jurisdictions, as reported by the tax software company Vertex, suggests the states have more simplification work to do. There are now 9,998 different sales tax jurisdictions in the United States, up more than 300 when Vertex last reported the figure in 2011.

The number of jurisdictions vary widely by state. New Jersey, despite a plethora of local governments, has just two jurisdictions -- statewide and areas bordering Delaware. Texas, by contrast, despite endorsing congressional action while itself declined to adopt uniform tax definitions or other sales tax reforms, has over 1,500 different sales tax jurisdictions.

 

CLIMATE CHANGING YOUR DIET

Mallory Carr and Daren Bakst for the Heritage Foundation's Foundry: The Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) may soon be telling you what you should eat to reduce your “carbon footprint.”

In order to -- ostensibly -- prevent global warming and reduce our national carbon footprint, Washington is already telling Americans what light bulbs they can buy and what buildings in which they should want to live and work. Now, food could be the next frontier.

Currently, the USDA and HHS are drafting their 2015 Dietary Guidelines. Every five years, the USDA and HHS issue recommendations for Americans on what constitutes a healthy diet. As Dr. Barbara Millen, chair of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), remarked, their job is “facilitating and promoting healthy eating and physical activity.” ...

Unfortunately, ideology now trumps practicality; rather than devoting its time to the group’s actual purpose — serving as the cornerstone of federal nutrition policy and nutrition education activities — the DGAC is focusing on environmental concerns. As Millen stated at the initial meeting, “Overall, we want to be certain to make recommendations for a healthy, ecologically responsible diet.” The Subcommittee on Food Sustainability and Safety made this objective even more explicit in their presentation at the second meeting when they stated: “The goal is to develop dietary guidance that supports human health and the health of the planet over time.”

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