Just how pervasive has anti-government sentiment become?

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It was a warm and muggy afternoon in Washington D.C. and I needed a clean T-shirt to change into after a long day of travel. A gift shop called America! at Dulles International Airport had plenty to choose from, including a few with messages on them that, quite frankly, I was surprised to see.

One T-shirt read: "I love my country, it's the government I'm afraid of."

Had the gift shop located inside the airport of our nation's capital created a special Tea Party section? Has anti-government sentiment become so entrenched in popular culture that we'll now be seeing "Nanny State" T-shirts for sale at Walmart?

It occurred to me that, yes, government intrusion has become a dominant, populist frame in our society -- one that works squarely against ongoing efforts to fight big tobacco and the junk food industry with one of the best weapons available: policy change.

Take, for example, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposal to ban the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces. This is just one of many ways public officials have tried to combat the devastating effects of soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages on the nation's obesity epidemic. Others include an excise tax on soda and an earlier proposal by New York officials that would have barred the use of food stamps to buy sugary drinks.

Responses to these proposals from both the public and political pundits alike have come fast and furious.

In one typical example, an editorial response to Bloomberg's recent proposal, the Daytona Beach News-Journal wrote:

These are probably the most American things: baseball, movies, hamburger joints and coffee shops. But all the New York Board of Health can see are breeding grounds for the national problem of obesity. The worriers have a point. But that doesn't mean they should use the blunt force of the law to do something about it. Sometimes, Americans should be warned -- not deprived of certain choices via government regulation. We are, after all, Americans. We came here to get away from kings and dictators. But the momentum right now is on the side of those promoting an authoritarian health state.

It's time more leaders from public health and other government entities join Bloomberg to vigorously defend government's role in putting an end to the preventable illnesses and deaths caused by tobacco, soda and other junk food.

It's our government's duty to protect us from health hazards. When government has a mechanism like policy change for creating healthier environments, we should insist that government use it. While we all have an important role to play in protecting ourselves and our children from the harmful effects of sugar and fat, soda and junk food companies are seriously undermining our efforts with their relentless, aggressive marketing.

Perhaps government should start printing its own T-shirts.


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