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Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services appointed a bipartisan committee to study the health effects of extreme sports such as mountain-climbing, skydiving and bungee-jumping. The committee is weighing a partial ban on these activities, as well as a "risk tax" on the equipment used. Spokesman James Hollenbach told reporters that another likely measure is a national ad campaign to persuade people to choose less risky sports, "such as badminton or low-impact aerobics."

How would you like to work on those ads? Maybe you'd pass. Maybe you'd figure there's something awfully schoolmarmish and un-American about the government's coercing people into golfing instead of whitewater-rafting.

The thing is, I made it all up. There is no committee, no impending ad campaign, no risk tax. But why not? After all, the government levies ever-higher 'sin taxes' on tobacco, then uses those proceeds to commission ads telling smokers they are anti-social, suicidal idiots. If we accept officials' meddling in our private decisions, couldn't other blatantly risky behavior be taxed and officially discouraged, too? How about a tax on fat? (And can an FDA/public health attack on Ronald McDonald be far behind? What is this clown but a dangerous pusher of grease, doing to kids' arteries what Joe Camel did to their lungs?)

Think I'm exaggerating? Kelly Brownell, a psychology professor at Yale, is seriously proposing a fat tax, and subsidies for healthy foods. Some political and media pundits lend him a willing ear. I'd heard jokes about a fat tax before. This, however, is no joke. "Often, these things start out as a satire; then they become serious policy proposals," Jacob Sullum, the author of For Your Own Good, told me over lunch recently (days before a federal appeals court denied the FDA the power to regulate tobacco). Sullum's book chronicles the assault on those who dare to trade longevity for pleasure. I found For Your Own Good the year's most thought-provoking read. You might, too. At the very least, the book could help you decide if you should vie for the government's soon-to-be-announced (well, maybe) anti-fat campaign. Meanwhile, have a burger. Have a smoke. It's still allowed. But the Nanny state is here, and the clock is

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