Just when we were beginning to warm up to Catherine Templeton – the new director of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) – off she goes and announces a government-funded jihad against obesity.

That’s right, people … state government is going to make you skinny (whether you like it or not).

Sources close to Templeton insist that she is “not trying to legislate food” – a la New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg – but is instead trying to reduce taxpayer costs on health care by targeting obesity, the root cause of our state’s poor health.  Oh, and Templeton is also eager to get rid of desserts and soda machines in public schools, too (which we don’t necessarily have a problem with).

The state’s liberal mainstream press is all over the idea, too.

“We urge state and local leaders to work with Templeton to turn her ideas into action,” write the left-leaning editorial writers at The Rock Hill Herald (responding to a lengthy, flattering feature in The State newspaper in Columbia).

Catherine Templeton

We admire Templeton’s idealism … really.  South Carolina is one of the fattest states in the nation, with more than 30 percent of our adult population currently classified as obese (the eighth-highest rate in America).  Our obesity epidemic is also growing faster than most other states. From 1995-2010, South Carolina’s obesity rate climbed by 14.3 percent – the tenth highest increase in the nation.

These are troubling numbers – and there is no doubt that they are directly correlated with our state’s out-of-control health care costs.

Here’s the thing, though …

While we’re fine with our worst-in-the-nation public schools doing away with desserts and soda machines (which we view as government “cuts”), how exactly is Templeton going to make us skinny?

Seriously … we’re going to pay people to go into our public schools and tell students to eat five servings of fruit a day?  Please.  Their parents are broke … they can’t afford five servings of fruit a day.

Here’s the fundamental problem … people in South Carolina are fat because they don’t know any better. And even if they did know better, they couldn’t afford to eat better (eating healthy is more expensive than eating junk).

If government wants to make people skinny, it should start by making them a little bit smarter and a little less impoverished – which of course starts with fundamental reforms to our education system and tax code.  But again, these reforms involve reducing the role of government – not expanding it.  Also, we’re extraordinarily leery of devoting any more classroom time to non-academic purposes.  Seriously … it’s no use indoctrinating kids on the dangers of global warming or unhealthy eating if they can’t read.

Fix the root problems first, in other words …

Over the last few months we’ve come to view Templeton in a much more positive light.  She claims to be serious about cutting the bureaucracy at her  new agency, and even those who curse the ground she walks on acknowledge that she’s incredibly smart, hard-working and persuasive.

Accordingly, while we’re not going to unilaterally dismiss her “War on Fat” until we see all of its specifics, we are going to approach it with a healthy serving of skepticism.  In particular, we will be interested in assessing its bottom line on taxpayers – particularly in light of the fact that our state has so many different government agencies which attempt to deliver health care “outcomes” to its people.

At the end of the day, though, it isn’t government’s job to make people skinny – just as it isn’t government’s job to pay for the consequences of their being fat. What government can do is seek market-based solutions that raise people’s intelligence as well as their ability to afford choices in all aspects of their lives.

Beyond that, people must live (and die) with the choices they make in life.