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Has the 'War on Obesity' Gone Too Far?

The U.S. is currently tackling two crises: the so-called fiscal cliff and obesity. Both have serious implications for the economy, national policy and individuals. Washington has joined the anti-obesity movement, offering nutritional and exercise tips on the Department of Agriculture's Web site ChooseMyPlate.org. But many health experts would say certain federal programs and legislation actually promote consumption of "junk food" and oversize portions. Billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies and handouts to industrial farms and food producers have led to a proliferation of cheap, easily accessible and fattening product offerings.

Related: Why We're Fat: It's the Government's Fault, Marion Nestle Says

Food that should be eaten in moderation — if at all — have multiplied on supermarket shelves. Potato chips and cookies are half the price of fruits and vegetables and many families who are struggling in this weak economy have tight food budgets. The growing trend to eat local, all-natural, environmentally sustainable and organic food cannot stop Americans' waistlines from expanding.

Cities small and large in the U.S. and around the globe have decided to take matters into their hands to lower the rate of obesity and encourage a healthier lifestyle. City council members in Los Angeles unanimously passed a resolution last week that calls for "Meatless Mondays."

According to Councilwoman Jan Perry:

"We can reduce saturated fats and reduce the risk of heart disease by 19%. While this is a symbolic gesture, it is asking people to think about the food choices they make. Eating less meat can reverse some of our nation's most common illnesses."

Los Angeles' support of "Meatless Mondays" makes it the largest U.S. city to embrace the initiative but not the first. Aspen, Colorado implemented its own "Meatless Mondays" in 2011.

Michael Jacobson, executive director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says the initiative could be implemented across the country.

"I think it's an excellent idea," he says in a phone interview. "Hopefully [Los Angeles] promotes Meatless Mondays in its cafeterias and schools…it made me hope that a lot of other city and state governments would adopt similar measures."

Shelley Johnson, an associate director at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, says existing research has not directly linked meat intake to a higher body weight.

"Contrary to Meatless Monday campaign claims, beef is both environmentally and nutritionally efficient," she says. "As a registered dietitian, I find that people are turning to me because they need advice on 'what to do/what they can do' to be healthier."

Los Angeles lawmakers may believe that meat-based diets lead to obesity but California residents are resisting other attempts by the state to control their food freedom. A ballot measure that would have taxed sugary drinks in California failed. In New York City, residents and local businesses are gearing up for next March, when the city's ban on sugary beverages larger than 16 ounces begins.

Related: McDonald's Makeover, Soda Ban Don't Go Far Enough: NYT's Bittman

More than one-third of U.S. adults, and 17% of U.S. children and adolescents are considered obese. Lawmakers and health officials will be under constant pressure to find the most effective way of dealing with this urgent crisis.

As The Daily Ticker's Henry Blodget and Aaron Task discuss in the attached clip, legislating healthy eating through various taxes can backfire. In Denmark, politicians rescinded the country's fat foods tax because it did not change consumers' dietary choices and hurt local business. The tax was implemented last year and applied to foods high in saturated fat. The Danish government discovered that its residents would travel to neighboring countries Sweden and Germany to buy butter and ice cream because prices were lower. Denmark has also decided to cancel plans for a sugar tax.

More from The Daily Ticker:

Coke and Pepsi Join War on Obesity: "Calories Count"

Obesity to Cost Taxpayers 'Billions of Dollars': Weight Watchers CEO

Organic Foods Are Worth the Cost: Whole Foods CEO