Health Regulation: A Case of Love It or Leavitt

But in 2006, we don’t burn leaves, our kids don’t ride bikes without helmets, our babies don’t eat lead paint chips and nobody thinks smoking cigarettes is anything but foul. Why? Because government at various levels has acted to protect the nation’s health through regulation and law.

So it is with continuing dismay that I see that the Bush administration, for all its commendable work persuading Americans that they ought to diet, exercise, get screenings and make healthy choices, still insists that only voluntary measures will work.

HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt, in announcing the grand idea of having the government publish a set of guidelines for exercise akin to the federal food pyramid for nutrition, said the following: “You cannot create a culture of wellness through regulations and penalties.”

Maybe you can’t create a new culture by force unless you work in the Pentagon, but this is not war; it is health, where evidence abounds that using an occasional stick does help people maintain their will to eat more carrots.

However, Leavitt demurs, with the decidedly off-script warning: “If we simply burden people with guilt or we appeal only to their fears, it won’t happen.”

Fear doesn’t work in public relations campaigns? Mike Leavitt — call your boss.

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