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No state law will take precedence over Federal law that requires menu labeling by chains that have 20 or more restaurants by 2013. However, this law will leave about half the restaurants in US free to allow their customers to make their eating choices.

The State Where You Can Be Arrested for Your Child Being Fat

It has become an article of faith in modern medicine to affirm that obesity is the original sin against health. Despite hundreds of studies that explain that obesity is the result, not the cause, of inflammation and insulin resistance, and a trickle of studies that find that older people actually live longer if they are not thin, people of influence and governmental agencies from Michelle Obama to the State of South Carolina have decided to use prestige and legal power to force their views of health on the general public.

One of the most controversial episodes in the public war on obesity occurred in staidly conservative South Carolina, where Jerri Gray, the mother of a 555-pound (250 kilo) 14-year-old Alexander Draper, was arrested for child neglect in 2008. Investigators found that Ms. Gray offered healthy meals in reasonable portions to her son in their home, but that the boy had habitually stopped at fast food places on the way to and from school and had sneaked out of the house at night to eat when Ms. Gray worked a night shift.

"It is not as if she hog-tied the boy and force-fed him," attorney Grant Varner told USA Today. "The real question here is whether Ms. Gray tried to force her son overeat when he was not under her care and control." The courts eventually agreed, and Ms. Gray was released without being charged, but similar cases were filed in Texas, Indiana, New York, New Mexico, and California. These states changed their laws after the fact to define childhood obesity as child abuse. But how fat is too fat?

Any 14-year-old who weighs 555 pounds has serious health problems. In New York, however, an adolescent girl who weighed 261 pounds (118 kilos) was placed under a court order to go the gym. And if she had an undiagnosed heart problem, or endocrine issue, or already-tired joints, that would be just too bad. The courts know better than parents, doctors, nutritionists, and the children themselves. It's a sin to be fat.

But children are not the only targets of anti-obesity campaigns. The City of Cleveland banned the use of  "industrially produced" fats by restaurants, without defining what was "industrially produced." The City of New York famously banned trans- fats (including healthy trans- fats like conjugated linolenic acid and virgin organic coconut oil) and required restaurants to post calories and fat grams for menu items.

The City of San Francisco decided to make "happy meals" less happy by banning offers of toys with foods (which were popular not just with children but also with adults). The City of Los Angeles banned fast food restaurants in South Los Angeles, where obesity rates are high and most of the population is poor and  African-American, but took no steps against discreet fast food restaurants in tony Marina del Rey or West Hollywood where most of the population is white and well-to-do.

Operators of restaurant chains began to complain of whack-a-mole regulations that differ from city to city and town to town, and, since state legislators tend to eat out a lot, took advantage of their opportunities to turn the tide of anti-food legislation. This year state legislatures all over the country are banning local-level legislation of eating habits, reserving that privilege for the states and the Federal government. A hodge-podge of discriminatory laws, most of which wound up being applied only to lower-income people and members of minority groups, is on the way out.

But Federal legislation is on the way in. No state law will take precedence over Federal law that requires menu labeling by chains that have 20 or more restaurants by 2013. However, this law will leave about half the restaurants in the US free to allow their customers to make their own eating choices.