Down With Enablers

Whether or not government regulation of these matters is seen as a good thing, it is undeniable that trying to enforce ethics on commercial enterprises is like the legendary whack-a-mole game. Squelch one shady practice, and another pops up. People cherish their freedom to choose, even if their bad decisions are self-destructive.

One of the most relentless obesity villains is the human propensity to buy on impulse.
Childhood Obesity News discussed the chicane, the cleverly engineered psychological obstacle placed at the point where grocery store customers wait to pay.

Sometimes there is barely enough time to load the purchases onto the conveyor belt. But other times, the person is stuck there for a while, waiting, not happily. What does an irritated person need to soothe the pain? A candy bar, and luckily a whole rack of them just happens to be sitting there, inches away.

Little kids are the worst. Even though they usually don’t control money, they control the people who have the money. While waiting at checkout, a harassed yet momentarily grateful parent might think, “The kids behaved themselves. I’ll treat them.” Or, “They’ve been okay so far. I’ll get something to keep them quiet on the ride home.”

More than one-third of the candy sold in England is bought on impulse. With just a few enforceable rules in place, retailers could lose a third of the profit they make on candy. Needless to say, the industry wants no more laws or taxes.

The dental problem

Many people see the need for more laws, because the consequences of untrammeled sugar consumption are inevitable and dire. England’s children now leave primary school with one out of five of them obese. Because of the sweets, obesity closely correlates with dental health, which has never been worse. The kids collectively miss 60,000 school days per year because of extractions. Every 10 seconds, somewhere in England a child is having a tooth yanked.

The esteemed dentist, Professor Michael Escudier, seemingly hopes to put his own colleagues out of work. He may even be the one who adopted the interesting word “chicane” from auto racing:

Supermarket “sugar chicanes” which bombard shoppers with last-minute deals on sweets as they queue up to pay, should be banned.

The nanny state

The government wants a healthier and therefore less costly populace, in terms of medical bills, and usually feels the necessity to implement measures. People are unlikely to change, or at least not very fast, so a relatively benign and fair way to minimize their bad behavior is to stack the odds against it, by engineering the environment so people don’t have autonomy.

And why not? Society has already developed a tolerance for agreeing to do things that make life safer for people. Streets and highways are engineered to coerce safe behavior. Try getting onto a major highway by heading against the flow of traffic. It’s not as easy as it used to be.

Spokespeople for freedom ask, why should a food retailer be forbidden to offer what we in the United States call a BOGO deal — buy one, get one — just because a random politician thinks that sales strategy is somehow immoral? The manufacturer gives the customer a deal, and the bureaucrats complain! That’s the mean old government, being unfair to both customers and merchants.

For this and other reasons, many people both here and in the U.K. feel that the government has no business in business. They uphold the alleged right of the mercantile empire to do whatever it needs to, in pursuit of profit. These are the cultural currents that help to keep the obesity boat afloat.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Supermarket ‘sugar chicanes’ should be banned, England’s most senior dentist says,”, 04/07/18
Source: “UK government adds plans to ban sweets at supermarket checkouts to childhood obesity fight,”, 06/03/18
Photo credit: David Goehring (CarbonNYC) on Visualhunt/CC BY

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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