Leonard Leo, Federalist Society EVP, is emailing daily reports from the World Health Organization’s Executive Board Session in Geneva. Today’s session focused on the “prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases: implementation of the global strategy.” I think the eradication of smallpox is one of the greatest triumphs in human history, so I was ready to cut the WHO some slack.
When I read “noncommunicable diseases,” I thought cancer, sickle-cell anemia, down syndrome, etc. In fact, these diseases are called non-contagious diseases. By noncommunicable diseases, the WHO means issues such as “unhealthy diet,” “physical inactivity,” and “tobacco and alcohol use.” When did bad habits earn the imposing title of “noncommunicable diseases”? The word disease connotes something that is beyond personal control. Diseases afflict people; people don’t choose diseases. I must admit, though, that the idea is seductive. I’m not overweight because I sit at a desk all day and eat too much. No, I suffer from a disease.
“For its part, the US Delegation acknowledged that the problem with non-communicable diseases is ‘extensive,’ but also noted that they are ‘among the most preventable diseases.'” I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, at least in the developed world, noncommunicable diseases are entirely preventable.
What is the proposed solution? Why, regulation of course.
Several NGOs–Consumers International, in particular–called for “national measures to regulate marketing,” “transparency in food labeling,” and an “international code for marketing to children” that would “restrict marketing of unhealthy food to children.”
The Federal Trade Commission tried this once already, and it didn’t work out too well for them.
The children’s advertising proceeding was toxic to the Commission as an institution. Congress allowed the agency’s funding to lapse, and the agency was literally shut down for a brief time. The FTC’s other important law enforcement functions were left in tatters. Newspapers ran stories showing FTC attorneys packing their active investigational files in boxes for storage, and entire industries sought restriction of, or even outright exemptions from, the agency’s authority. Congress passed a law prohibiting the FTC from adopting any rule in the children’s advertising rulemaking proceeding, or in any substantially similar proceeding, based on an unfairness theory. It was more than a decade after the FTC terminated the rulemaking before Congress was willing to reauthorize the agency. (Beales, 12 Geo. Mason L.R. 879-80).
This is just another in a line of “diseases” that aren’t really our fault. In another example, Russell Roberts of George Mason University writes and talks about intermittent explosive disorder. But, by far the worst case seems to be Restless Heart Syndrome.