Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Cost of Obesity

The WSJ health blog discusses the added cost of morbid obesity on total American health care expenditures.
The estimated annual medical costs due to obesity nearly doubled to $147 billion in 2008 from $78.5 billion in 1998, as the obesity rate rose 37% during the period, according to an article published online today in the journal Health Affairs and highlighted during the conference. Obese individuals incurred an average of 42% more in medical expenditures — about $4,800 for per person per year — compared with normal weight individuals, who incurred an average of about $3,400 in such expenses.

Individual accountability in health care reform has been curiously downplayed. If anything, the mandates for prohibiting denial of coverage of individuals with pre-existing conditions suggest that personal accountability will be buried. Reckless behavior and overindulgence has a societal price. Certainly care for those who are more of a burden on the national health care ledger (due to self determined circumstances) ought not to be denied coverage or made to pay exorbitant premiums, but shouldn't they be incentivized in some fashion to change those behaviors that contribute to the cost burden?

Taxes on cigarettes keep getting raised (not to fund health care projects, mind you, but to rather construct shiny new baseball stadiums for rich athletes to play in while the surrounding urban infrastructure crumbles) and now the prevalence of cigarette smoking is trending downward in this country. No one has a problem with this. Why isn't there similar momentum for a "sin tax" on fried foods, candy, and fructose-laden beverages? All revenues collected then could to be directed toward the health care kitty. The penalty will be a self inflicted wound rather than an arbitrary decree mandated by the federal government. Maybe I'm missing something but that seems reasonable to me....

9 comments:

platensimycin said...

Not sure how it will be written into a bill, but individual awareness and accountability are indeed the keys. Citizens should be encouraged to stay lean, as opposed to penalized for being obese. It's a free country, after all.

Besides lifestyle, genetics, illness and medication also potentially play parts in weight gain.

On the flip side, obesity should be considered a disease AND a serious risk factor, rather than a personal trait (as most Americans see it). Diseases that obesity predisposes an individual to - far more numerous yet far less publicly aware of, than cigarette smoking & alcoholism - cannot be underestimated.

Anonymous said...

I am all for a candy/chips/soda tax. Most people I have discussed this with, understand that if they cut back on junk foods, they would probably lose weight/feel better. Just about all of them would welcome this tax as a good thing, but also admit that they would still buy the things they really enjoy even if taxed. That last part should soothe industry fears.

I could still get that ice-cold Coke (nursing hypoglycemia) and look at it as ‘taking one for the team’ helping to financially support national healthcare, couldn't I? But then again, if nurses didn't miss so many meals and breaks, they'd be able to eat real food…

-SCNS

Frank Drackman said...

Good Idea, and while you're at it, how about taxin those expensive HIV medications, except for those poor unfortunates that got it from blood transfusions or bein born in Haiti????? And while you're at it HIV uses up some pretty scarce health care resources what with their Pneumocystis Pneumonias and parasites everyone though were extinct... Might even be able to shift some money into fiding a cure for a deserving disease, like Lou Gehrigs... WTF causes that anyway???

Frank

Anonymous said...

Take it easy, Frank.

We are only talking about junk food & soda - wait, i mean obesity :D

If my kids were overweight, i think with the tax in place i would make a greater effort to help them lose weight and stay healthy. (Fortunately, they aren't.)

As far as law and gov intervention is concerned, it's indeed a dicey place to step into. Perhaps taxing junk food industry makes more sense. But, then, stopping obesity epidemics is more than just "stop eating those chips" effort - it's more like a mentality thing.

How else can we help obese folks lose weight?

Obesity: complications (Mayo). It's longer than i thought.

Trader Bob said...

Cigarettes will move to the black market just like weed. You can only tax so much. I know a business owner of a couple of gas stations who started to sell the tabacco to make your own cigarettes.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps instead of taxing junk food, etc., we should simply eliminate the government subsidies to the big farms that produce corn syrup, cane sugar, etc. Thus consumers would pay less in taxes, there would be less pork-barrel spending for these entities, and consumers would see the real price and could make a better informed desicion about this addictive substance that the government supports.

Anonymous said...

Before taxing things that include less-than-desirable ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, we should eliminate the subsidies that foster the continued growth of the use of the corn based crap! Taxing someone on top of the tax they already pay to subsidize the product is double-taxation - eliminate the subsidy and the ingredient will rise in price, thus limiting, via the market, how much people consume due to the now "real" price that isn't artifically lower due to subsidies!

Anonymous said...

Obesity has now been linked to causing 100,000 cancer cases per year. In that respect, discouraging obesity even by mean of taxation sounds like a fine idea.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hma5Z8_MJre9bLv_FxecBjLhxzDA

PUI prof said...

Education is important to combat obesity. I don't mean "don't eat that crap" education, I mean getting people good early childhood, high school, trade school, and university educations. Money efficiently spent on improving teachers and schools would result in citizens' empowerment and improved critical thinking ability would go far in combating that disease of poverty and impoverished minds- obesity.