The restaurant industry is a free market enterprise. The result has not been that the most popular restaurants are those that offer healthy food in moderate portion sizes.
There are two underlying arguments behind Stossell’s comment. The first is that people will always choose what is best for them, for their children, and for society as a whole. The second is that the free market always offers an option that is in the best interest of their customers.
I like to think that I would always make decisions based on long term consequences, but the fact that I grabbed a “value meal” from the local burger joint makes me think that I am sometimes a little short-sighted. We see the same thing with child rearing. There are a lot of people who chose to send their children to a private school based on social status, ideology, or bigotry. I know an woman whom I admire in many ways who decided to send her daughter to a private, catholic, all-girl school because the daughter’s best friend was planning to go there. The mother is a big supporter of public education, not a catholic, and admitted that the public high school has a better academic record. None of those factors changed her decision.
In addressing the second point, we have to remember that the purpose of a business is to preserve the business. If they can do this by offering a premium product to the public, then they will. If they can survive by offering an inferior product to the public with a lot of advertising, then they will do that instead. If the tobacco companies had our best interests in mind, they would have stopped selling tobacco several decades ago. If the oil companies had our best interests in mind, they would be plunging their money into developing alternative energy sources instead of paying CEO’s huge bonuses. If our school system was turned over to private firms, they would look for a way to provide the minimum necessary education for the greatest price with the smallest cost. The companies who will not do that will be put out of business by the ones who will.