Los Angeles Times Features Commentary by Senior Fellow James M. Taylor

Published May 16, 2004

Editor’s note: The following commentary by James M. Taylor, managing editor of Environment & Climate News, was published by the Los Angeles Times on May 16. The essay will also appear in the June issue of ECN.

Forget Atkins–a Big Land Grab Will Cut Your Flab

During the 2000 and 2001 congressional sessions, a group of federal lawmakers attempted one of the largest land grabs in history. Designated the Conservation and Reinvestment Act, the measure would have required the federal government to spend more than $3 billion a year, in the name of “conservation,” to buy land held by private citizens.

But in 2000, the bill stalled in the Senate. And in 2001, a redrafted bill generated no more enthusiasm. CARA seemed as dead as the Soviet collective farm system.

But give credit to the champions of big government: They will never miss an opportunity to grab a larger piece of America for control by government. Taking advantage of studies showing that 20% of Americans are “obese”–typically defined as a rather modest 20% above a ridiculously slender “ideal” body weight–the federal land-grabbers twisted the findings and swung into action.

Old CARA supporters have re-created it, virtually word for word, and now call it the Get Outdoors Act.

Unbelievable, isn’t it? But it’s true. “Obesity is a public health crisis of the first order, and the Get Outdoors Act is a sensible way to help mitigate that public health crisis,” said Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez), House cosponsor of the bill.

The GO Act would send a flood of money into such programs as the Historic Preservation Fund and endangered species recovery. Is a walking tour through an 18th century plantation an effective weight-loss activity? Does taking thousands of acres infested by kangaroo rats and ruling it off limits to humans make humans more likely to lose weight?

The majority of obese Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control, are over the age of 50. Americans, and especially older Americans, tend to be obese because we can afford to be. We have accumulated the wealth and disposable income to treat ourselves to healthy portions of the food we like.

We deliberately choose, especially as we get older, to spend a great deal of our time enjoying activities that may not involve physical exertion. We go on cruises with all-you-can-eat buffets; we watch rather than participate in sporting events, sit in theaters and stroll through art galleries and shopping malls. We sit at our computers for hours at a time chatting online with friends and family. We camp out on the couch and tune in our satellite dish to watch virtually any movie or live sporting event the planet has to offer.

Americans are overweight not because we are imprisoned in our homes with no place to exercise but because we make lifestyle choices that bring us little exercise but great pleasure.

Does anybody actually believe that Americans are overweight because the government owns only 40%, rather than 50% or 60%, of the entire U.S. landmass? If people don’t use the available 40% for weight loss, exercise and recreation, by what logic will we suddenly begin to use the additional and less appealing 10% or 20% the environmentalists want the federal government to buy?

Wouldn’t it be cheaper–and more effective–to buy every American a treadmill, weight bench, basketball, workout tape or jogging shoes?

If we are looking for a motive for the proposed GO Act, we need only consider the main beneficiaries of the bill. Federal money will be pumped disproportionately to the states of the two House co-sponsors: Don Young (R-Alaska) and California’s Miller.

If the true purpose of the GO Act is to fight obesity, why would funds be spent disproportionately in Alaska, where the government already owns more than half of the land, where hardly anybody lives and where it’s often too cold to exercise outside; and in California, where the government owns nearly half of the land and where obesity is far less a problem than elsewhere in the country?

This CARA deserves the same fate as the old CARA.

James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News and a senior fellow at the Heartland Institute. If you want other stories on this topic, search the Archives at http://www.latimes.com/archives.

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