When employee benefit professionals collectively roll their eyes at nearly every new layer of government regulation, I roll mine right along with them.

I have done so since 1988, when the infamous – and laughably draconian – Section 89 proposal sparked some of the loudest catcalling I’d ever heard from this industry and forever made me a skeptic of well-intentioned ideas with unintended consequences. It was a rude awakening for me, having grown up in an environment where laws were respected and never really questioned.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I confess that there’s another motivation for my viewpoint. As a small-business owner (i.e., freelance writer, chief cook and bottle washer for my own corporate entity), I know first-hand how annoying it can be to comply with silly directives when I can be spending my time doing more important things.

Like writing this blog!

So it may come as somewhat of a surprise that I actually understand, and in some cases, welcome the type of regulation that staunch defenders of freedom from government interference in our lives like to mock or protest against.

They cry foul, hurling accusations that this great country is turning into a “nanny” state. My response: oh, puh-lease. Sometimes we need to be saved from ourselves. It’s like friends or family staging an intervention to end a loved one’s dependency on drugs or alcohol – only it’s Uncle Sam who’s running the meeting.

Critics can’t bear the thought of government restricting choices when it comes to what we might like to smoke, drink or eat. Sure, the notion is silly on the surface, and I respect what they have to say on these matters. But isn’t the joke on us? Haven’t we become rather silly in the process? If only we had more self-control as a nation, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

I’ve seen some compelling news articles in recent weeks and months about the nation’s war on obesity, battle of the bulging waistline – call it what you will. This is one area where sometimes I believe that even the threat of government regulation is actually courageous.

Here are a few of my heroes – and heroines:

  • The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer-advocacy group, has been called the Food Police and accused of practicing junk science. You know what? I’d rather earmark some of my hard-earned tax dollars to those guys to study the long-term effect of high-fructose corn syrup than fight a war halfway around the world.
  • First Lady Michelle Obama has been ridiculed for advocating healthier school lunches and encouraging children to learn more about the benefits of nutrition and exercise. C’mon, folks. How can this sort of effort be seen as nefarious in any way or unnecessary government indoctrination of our most precious human resource of all: young people? Guess I’d have somewhat of a problem if she were morbidly obese, which obviously would appear hypocritical or ironic. But from an appearance standpoint alone, she’s one of our most fit and glamorous first ladies. Here’s some compelling evidence to buttress her cause: A recent Reuters story suggested that “regulating the foods and beverages sold outside of federal meal programs at schools may help curb the child obesity epidemic.”
  • New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is fit to be tied about his fellow citizens bent on killing themselves with sugar, as one recent news account put it – in a place they call the Big Apple, no less. How amusing. He wants to ban supersized sodas. So what? Just order an extra Pepsi if it’s that important. Is it so wrong to resist this sort of government crackdown? I think it sends a powerful message, which is that the time has come to change our culture. HR departments have been talking a lot about fostering a corporate culture of health to help improve employee health and save health care costs in the process. Why can’t we do that at the federal, state or local government level? Is it so wrong to protest these ideas?

Here’s another way of looking at this hot-button issue: If it’s okay to charge higher premiums on employer-provided health insurance to smokers or employees who refuse to take a health-risk appraisal or achieve desired outcomes from a worksite wellness program, then why is it wrong for the government to help us take better care of ourselves?
Shouldn’t we be worrying about more important things, such as jump-starting the economy or replacing that atrocious coffee in the break room with a tasty Columbian blend?

In all seriousness, it harks back to creating a culture of health in the workplace – a bold and courageous idea whose time has come. So why not extend this thinking beyond the corporate cafeteria or onsite gym? Let’s embrace this notion everywhere, every day – now and forever. Our health depends on it.

Guest blogger Bruce Shutan is a former managing editor of Employee Benefit News and Los Angeles freelance writer.

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