Obesity a Thin Excuse for Federal Land Grabs

Published June 1, 2004

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 (CARA), the measure would have required the federal government to spend more than $3 billion a year to buy private land and remove it, in the name of “conservation,” from the control of private citizens.

After the House approved CARA in 2000, the bill stalled in the Senate. In 2001, a redrafted bill generated less enthusiasm than it had the year before. CARA was, it 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 20 percent of Americans are “obese” (typically defined as a rather modest 20 percent 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 (GO) 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 Congressman George Miller (D-California), House co-sponsor of the bill.

The GO Act will flood with money such programs as the Historic Preservation Fund and endangered species recovery. Is a walking tour through an eighteenth century plantation really 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?

A Lifestyle Choice

The majority of obese Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control, are over the age of 50. Americans, and especially elderly 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 willingly make lifestyle choices that bring us little exercise but great pleasure.

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

Wouldn’t it be cheaper–and more effective–to buy every American his or her choice of a treadmill, weight bench, basketball, Jane Fonda workout tape, or pair of jogging shoes?

Follow the Money

If we are looking for a motive for the 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 the aforementioned George Miller (D-California).

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

Ask your friends, colleagues, and family members how much land the government should own. I guarantee most will give you a figure much less than 40 percent. Ask yourself, how much land is enough?

And then, ask your elected officials that same question, and demand a concrete answer.

James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News. His email address is [email protected].