“Information is power.” – Activist, Author, Journalist, Lecturer Robin Morgan

Consider my visit to McDonald’s this past weekend.

The Angus mushroom burger with Swiss cheese looked mighty tempting, but then I saw the calorie count beside it: 770 calories, 360 of which comes from fat.

Hmmm…I am follicly challenged, and to some, I may be vertically challenged. Damn it all, I will not be horizontally challenged. No convulations hanging over my belt thank you very much.

Okay, then no Angus mushroom burger with Swiss cheese.

What were my alternatives? Looking at the McDonald’s scoreboard, I selected a bacon ranch grilled chicken salad (230 calories, 80 calories from fat) and a small wild berry smoothie (210 calories, five calories from fat). If you are scoring at home, I said “no” to 770/360 and “yes” to 440/85.


Best of all, I made this decision without New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg or some other nanny state politician or bureaucrat interceding, regulating or taxing on my behalf. Some may question my decision to go to McDonald’s in the first place, but that was my independent choice as a liberty-loving American.

My point here is not taking an ostrich-burying-its-head-in-the-sand approach in the face of the skyrocketing instances of obesity in the United States and around the world. Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese.  According to the World Health Organization, the UN and The Economist, 35 percent of the global adult population of 4.4 billion in 2010 was overweight and 12.4 percent were obese (obviously, the US percentages were higher). Projected out to 2020, 39.7 percent of the adult population of 5.1 billion will be overweight and 15.4 percent will be obese…more than half the adults on the planet.

The Institute of Medicine estimates that obesity related illnesses cost about $190 billion annually or one-fifth of total health spending in the US. Houston, we clearly have a problem. Is more government the solution? Or does the solution lie with public information? Can the global public relations/advertising/marketing industry be the answer?

Denmark tried the predictable and intellectually vapid command-and-control response of imposing a tax on fatty foods. Last month, the country rescinded the unpopular tax based upon the law of unintended consequences.

Besides belting the country’s high-end Danish cheese and meat industries with higher selling prices, driving down demand, Danish consumers also voted with their cars, boats, bikes and feet. Forty-eight percent, up 10 percent, bought their fatty foods from neighboring Germany and Sweden to the tune of $1.8 billion in lost revenues to the country’s retailers and tax coffers.

Doesn’t every answer that requires a new tax, potentially resulting in higher revenues and thus more spending and debt, also result in an unintended consumer response? Why do increased tax champions conveniently always seem to ignore the dynamic response to their policies? When something seems so simple, in reality it is much more complicated.

Mayor Bloomberg’s prohibition against stadiums, movie theatres, restaurants and (gasp) food carts selling sugary drinks above 16-ounces, while inexplicably still allowing the selling of 24-ounce beers (fat, carbs and alcohol all in one), strikes one as being hard paternalism and/or nannyism gone wild.

Isn’t another answer social marketing that deftly employs social and conventional media a better answer? We have more information tools to move data about smart choices to more people than ever with unprecedented speed and range. Why not more horizontal informational approaches to a flattening world as opposed to vertical command-and-control edicts from the all-knowing elected or non-elected Politburos?

The Texas State Department of Transportation (yes, the public sector) has used social marketing for a generation to convince the Bubbas to not litter from their trucks with its wildly successful, “Don’t Mess with Texas” campaign. Alpha males (e.g. George Strait, Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Too Tall Jones, Randy White) implored the truckers and other manly (and womanly types) to not litter Texas highways.


Even though there are still more than 1.1 million pieces of litter each year on Lone Star State highways, one can only imagine how much worse that number would be without the program. It worked by providing information, skillfully delivered with a terrific campaign: Message, Candidate(s), Campaign.

Is it any wonder that Texas with its public information approach scores among the best for small business, while New York with nanny Bloomberg and (Proposition 30) tax raising California score near the bottom? And didn’t the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors consider banning and fining those who had the audacity of throwing a Frisbee or a football on a county beach this past summer?

Instead of requiring already overwhelmed LA County Sheriffs to go on the prowl for those in swim trunks and bikinis who dare to throw a Frisbee, why not hire California PR talent to ask those to be cool with Frisbees and Angus mushroom burgers with Swiss cheese. One message could be that you will look so much better in your swim trucks and bikini with six-pack abs and no extra love handles caused by mushroom Angus burgers with Swiss cheese.