How much does the obesity epidemic in this country influence government and health care? That is the question currently being debated by decision makers, health-care providers, politicians and consumers.
I had the privilege of listening to a debate last week at New York University on this very subject. Pros taking the stand that yes, obesity is the government’s business were Dr. David Satcher (former U.S. Surgeon General) and Dr. Pamela Peeke, with WebMD. Arguing against federal initiatives were Fox News anchor John Stossel and Paul Campos, author of the book “The Obesity Myth.” At the center of the debate is the issue that rates of obesity for children have tripled since 1970, and one third of all adults are obese – this is a dangerous health crisis that alone increases the populations risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, stroke and other illnesses. Aside from the human costs, obesity is responsible for $150 billion annually in medical costs.
Here a little summary from the debate for you to ponder:
Yes, obesity is government business because:
- Obesity is a major factor in driving insurance claim costs.
- Income is related to eating healthier foods because they become more affordable. Either make people wealthier or make healthy foods more affordable.
- Useful tips about obesity prevention and education should be included in the schools curricula.
- A National Weight Control Registry (which includes a collection of 10,000 “successful losers” who dropped at least 30 pounds and have maintained their slimmer build for more than a year) highlights the role of education in successful weight management.
- Children who develop good eating habits and regular physical activity do better academically.
No, obesity is not the government’s business because:
- We do not really know what weight levels contribute to what exact health risks.
- Government is not a parenting agency’
- If individuals want to be fat, it is none of Uncle Sam’s business.
- Schools should not involve themselves in the obesity issue because the schools can barely teach reading, writing and arithmetic’
- Obesity is a person responsibility problem.
Can we learn from our past?
The idea of health being the government’s business has been around for a long time. In 1963 when 75,000 children were plagued with the measles, immunizations were offered eradicating the disease. There were only 61 cases of measles in 2010. The school lunch program is another example. It began in 1946 to ensure that young men were well nourished enough to pass their army physicals and to ensure a healthy future workforce. These programs didn’t just happen overnight. There is always a long history of development and evaluation that comes with any new government programs. In fact, free lunches actually began being offered in NYC in 1853, that’s almost 100 years of testing.
The obesity epidemic is so new, perhaps we have not had enough time to study what is working and what isn’t. We do need to look at what types of programs give us the most return on our treasured governmental dollars. So what side of the “obesity is the government’s business” fence do you fall on?