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Kearneysville, WV. Tis the season to be jolly. And the jolliest fellow of all is that rotund elf in the red suit. He’s happy. He’s spry. He binges on cookies and milk. It turns out, though, that if St. Nick put on weight at the rate of the American population, he’d have to add a few reindeer to his team and he would, if he is susceptible to human ailments, be at high risk for cancer, diabetes, and a host of other obesity related diseases.

A study released last month based on research by Dr. Kenneth E. Thorpe of Emory University suggests that if we want to control health costs it is imperative that we do something about obesity, “the fastest growing public health challenge the nation has ever faced.”

Indeed, it seems that Americans are doing pretty well if girth is any indication of success. We are heavier than ever before and packing on the pounds at a rate that is staggering. Here are a few of the findings:

  • Obesity is growing faster than any previous public health issue our nation has faced. If current trends continue, 103 million American adults will be considered obese by 2018.
  • The U.S. is expected to spend $344 billion on health care costs attributable to obesity in 2018 if rates continue to increase at their current levels. Obesityrelated direct expenditures are expected to account for more than 21 percent of the nation’s direct health care spending in 2018.
  • If obesity levels were held at their current rates, the U.S. could save an estimated $820 per adult in health care costs by 2018 a savings of almost $200 billion dollars.

What could be causing such an increase? Well, it doesn’t take much of an imagination, but the study lays it out in case anyone is puzzled: “Obesity is attributable to inadequate activity, unhealthy eating habits, and changing food alternatives.” In other words, we Americans are spending more and more time sitting on our ample bums while eating more and more crap. It doesn’t take a researcher to figure out that this is a pretty good recipe for obesity.

Now what makes this all so very interesting is that our leaders are currently locked in a debate about overhauling the health care system to prevent spiraling costs and to insure some 40 million uninsured Americans. But this discussion of obesity forces us to ask a fundamental question: what is health care? Or perhaps we can ask something even more fundamental: what is health?

If, when we speak of health care, we think only, or even primarily, in terms of doctors, medicine, surgeries, and such, we have missed the mark, for health care should primarily be concerned with staying healthy and not recovering a health that has been lost. And the best means of achieving health is to, well, eat healthy foods, limit intake, and get regular exercise. If we neglect these basic rules and imagine that health care begins when we are in need of a doctor, then health care costs will continue to spiral upward even as our health declines. Health care must be concerned with health, and health does not, generally, come from a prescription or one more visit to the doctor. Health, like so many other good things, begins at home.

As it turns out, obesity is tied to plenty of expensive ailments. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease, which, as everyone knows, is exacerbated if not caused by obesity. A study by the American Institute for Cancer Research considered the link between diet, exercise, and fatness and estimated that obesity causes more than 100,000 cases of cancer in the United States each year, and the number will likely rise as Americans get fatter.

In July, federal and other researchers estimated that obesity-related diseases account for nearly 10 percent of all medical spending in the United States or an estimated $147 billion a year.

So why is this issue of national obesity not at the center of our health care debate? Because Americans take offense at anyone telling them what they can and cannot eat. They take offense at anyone suggesting that poor choices are at the heart of many of our physical problems. We want health care without caring for our own health. We want our cake and, of course, we want to eat it too. All of it. We demand the freedom to do as we please and then we expect our state-of-the-art health care system to rescue us from our bad choices. But freedom is not free. It requires either responsibility or a nanny to wipe the crumbs from our flaccid chins. And the nanny is not cheap.

Dr. Thorpe has suggested that if the obesity rates among the American population were to return to 1987 levels, the savings would pay for the health care of all those who are currently uninsured. Did you get that? He didn’t say we’d have to return to the hungry days of the Great Depression. He didn’t say we’d have to become vegetarians and give up french fries to boot. We would merely have to return our national girth to what it was in the balmy days when the Gipper occupied the White House, and we could take care of those uninsured for whom so many are concerned.

It seems like a pretty simple prescription: eat less, cut down on the junk, exercise regularly. But because we refuse to put down the Twinkie, our nannies in Washington are only too willing to saddle us with a health care bureaucracy that is as obese as we are. That’s not healthy.

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Jason Peters December 18, 2009 at 6:47 am

Spot on, Mark, but, as usual, far too polite. (The kindness of the kind has always flummoxed me.)

Subsidies for farmers who grow “specialty crops,” or what many of us refer to as “food,” would go some distance in reducing the federally-sponsored corn-based (and corn-sweetened) diet that at once widens our asses and dulls our minds–until at last diabetes shoves us betimes into our graves.

Which is to say that true health-care–or caring for health, as you say–must include caring for the health of the land. Health-care reform without farm-bill reform is classic wheel-spinning. Worse: it’s one step forward and two hundred steps back.

But your remarks about individuals who take offense rightly points toward the necessity of remaking private life, regardless of what the Nanny State does. Each of us must reform his food culture–must reform eating–altogether. From tilth to table.

And for transportation I recommend the foot. Cuts down on the jiggling.

(Where did you get that picture of Kauffman’s buttcrack?)

avatar Bob Cheeks December 18, 2009 at 7:47 am

Well, I’m looking forward to the gummint wooden bowl!
I can squat on the side of the dirt road that wanders through my village, just like my African, Indian, and Asian bros, eating God only knows what, and not much of that, while FPR’s Whole Earthers (Mark, Arben, Peters, Sabin, et al) come together to sing “We Are the World!”
I get a chill down my leg just thinking of that scene.
As for my own, recent weight gain, I consider said weight gain something of a fatback savings account, considering the commie-Dems and our fearless leader, the Enlightened One, are making every effort to place me in the ranks of those who find themselves in reduced circumstances.
And, while we’re at it Mark, since we’re all going to be skinnier and live to 90 or 100, I might suggest that the “savings” from abandoning our corncentric culture and embracing thinness as another facet of Godliness, will be ‘consumed’ by an extension of Social Security payments.
And, Sabin you just have yourself a Happy Ramadama!

avatar Bill Kauffman December 18, 2009 at 9:41 am

Jeez, Peters, I thought that rictus was your grin. A common mix-up, I guess.

avatar D.W. Sabin December 18, 2009 at 10:33 am

Cheeks, you indelicate clod, it is called Ramadan and it is now past. What you are speaking of here is Kwanzaa…as in “Matunda ya Kwanza”. And, let us not forget the Spirit of The Sireens and their yuletide holiday “Menarescum” where they shoot meat eating brutes like you in order to stuff them for use as picnic benches for the Winter Solstice Tofu Barbecue and Democrat Party Fundraiser. Each attendee receives a Rainbow Flag with the Words “You talkin to me?” needle-pointed across the bottom.

Your insensitivity to High Holidays is indicative of a rather reactionary mien, ill serving a proper citizen of this Brave New World.

Actually, and speaking of Ramadan, the holiday includes a lot of fasting which brings to mind that you do not see a lot of fat assed Muslims except amongst the sordid ranks of westernized, entirely secularized Sheiks, who like to order eastern european hostesses in whilst hiding their Johnny Walker Black in secret compartments of their Yemeni Daggers so as to be ready to hoist a toast to increasing OPEC prices in order to prick the “Great Western Satan” when the flock needs a little red meat .

avatar Thomas G. December 18, 2009 at 10:53 am

All I want for Christmas is one positive blog post on FPR.

I mean, not to single this particular post out, but jeepers guys. Is it darkness induced seasonal affected disorder? Now, I’m not saying that there’s a whole lot of sunshine and happiness around this once fine Republic, but there’s got to be some small victory amidst the ruins that is worth lauding.

Tuning in every day to hear how fat, dumb, and materialistic we’ve all become is not just preaching to the choir, it’s depressing the hell out of this choir boy.

Just saying…

avatar Bob Cheeks December 18, 2009 at 11:16 am

Thomas G., for “sunshine and happiness” you might want to check the brilliant and erudite writers over at Postmodern Conservative! None of them have suggested we take up the wooden bowl, loin cloth, and head rag.

avatar Kacy December 18, 2009 at 11:46 am

I think there is more to America’s fat problem than just corn subsidies, as Jason Peters mentioned, though such is indeed a problem. Perhaps an equally large, if not greater, contribution to the problem is that Americans are overworked in low activity jobs. Most folks simply do not have time to cook, and most families have two wage earners, leaving no one to cook healthy family meals. In many ways it is children who suffer the most, and I saw a statistic that said 1 in 4 children born after 2000 will have type two diabetes before they reach adulthood. (Alright, so I saw this in Food Inc., and I’m not sure the statistical methods used to figure that one out. But the point is that type two diabetes is on the rise in children.)

I’m only in my mid-twenties, but I grew up in this sort of environment with two working parents. It was much easier for my mother to put a frozen meal in the oven for us and let us have Oreo cookies for dessert. I was also a fat kid and struggled with an eating disorder through high school and early college. Both obesity and eating disorders are linked to our unhealthy American relationship with food.

As an adult I am finding that I am not the only one who wants to eat well but trying to figure out what this looks like as I go along. Many of my peers are trying to do this too, and we swap recipes for different ways to cook seasonal vegetables. This has taken a lot of work, and it’s something I’ve only been able to do since becomming a stay-at-home mom. Learning how to cook healthy meals requires some degree of leisure time, especially if you have grown up disconnected from the tradition of passing down recipes and watching older generations working in the kitchen.

As for a nanny state solution to the obesity epidemic. I think there should be an excise tax on things like potato chips, soft drinks, pre-packaged “desserts,” etc. Other things that cause health and social problems are taxed such as tobacco and alcohol, so why not junk “food” too? The money collected from this tax can be used to cover government healthcare. But this solution makes too much sense for Capital Hill, and those agribusiness lobbyists would make sure this never happened.

avatar Sam M December 18, 2009 at 12:20 pm

“I’m only in my mid-twenties, but I grew up in this sort of environment with two working parents. It was much easier for my mother to put a frozen meal in the oven for us and let us have Oreo cookies for dessert.”

Eating procesed food does not make you fat. Eating TV dinners does not make you fat. Eating a whole bunch of processed food and a whole bunch of TV dinners makes you fat.

Let’s say mom does stay at home and cooks a pork roast and mashed potatoes every night. Does that somehow force people to engage in portion control? Will I eat fewer mashed potatoes if mom mashed them herself, than if I get them out of a microwaved, Green Giant-approved freezer bag?

I don’t think so. And I don’t think it’s entirely a matter of nasty modern food additives. The fattening part of mashed potatoes isn’t the partially hydrogenized corn syrup. It’s the mashed potatoes.

avatar Sam M December 18, 2009 at 12:35 pm

But more broadly speaking, you are correct. Lifestyle is a crucial part of health outcomes. And healthcare costs. This is one of the reasons my mom didn’t let me do stupid crap when I was a kid, Sure, she didn’t want me to get hurt. But she also didn’t want to have to pay to patch me up.

Which brings us to the current healthcare debate. One of the entirely undiscussed issues is the question of lifestyle choice. It makes sense for my mom to harangue four-year-old me about the dangers of climbing in trees. But to what extent are we comfortable with the government paying the bills and haranguing us in this fashion.

If Uncle Sam is paying the bill, he is going to rap us on the knuckles for smoking. A lot of people, like Rod Dreher, it seems, will stand and cheer. But lots of things are costly in healthcare terms. Having babies costs a lot. Mountain climbers are prone to falling. Football costs more than tiddly-winks.

Some things will be immune to censure, of course. Five bouts of syphillus in a two year span? Well, we can’t be telling people to squash their primal urges. But of course, we can certainly tell those mouth-breathing suburbanites to stop eating those TV dinners! (Cretins.)

Hot dogs and apple pie? Methinks they will be banned for the good of us all. And let’s not even talk about beer.

Scary stuff. To me at least.

avatar Artie December 18, 2009 at 3:11 pm

Obesity in humans is perpetual growth economics writ lard.

avatar Carey Cuprisin December 18, 2009 at 4:07 pm

I understand Thomas G’s aversion to depressing posts, but I’ve never been much of a choir boy, and I think we aren’t told often enough about how fat, dumb, and materialistic we’ve all become.

So thank you, Mr. Mitchell. Your last paragraph is spot-on. The fun part of course is figuring out what to do about it.

The nanny state is a problem, but it’d be much less of one if it nannied us in the direction of more exercise and less calorically-dense food. Instead, it makes us pay for corn subidies on one hand, and (soon) for expensive private insurance to treat the resulting type-2 diabetes on the other.

The state is experienced with this “make us pay twice” strategy — think of the taxpayer-financed medical research for drugs. As soon as the risky initial research has been completed at taxpayer expense, the promising drugs are given away to private drug companies that are free to charge us whatever they want for a drug we’ve already helped to pay for. Reliably myopic conservatives object only when someone suggests that the government exercise its legal rights to moderate these prices.

The problem here is corporatism. The nanny state would be a lot less destructive if it wasn’t also a nursemaid for large corporate interests.

avatar Marianne December 18, 2009 at 4:37 pm

This is a topic oft discussed in my parents’ rabidly anti-fatty home. Standing up for the big’uns among us is one of the many ways in which I engage the ancient tradition of rebelling against the values of one’s parents. And a pro-obesity stance takes on special gravity in my family since my parents’ true religion is the Church of Skinny. (J/k, Mom and Dad!)

In all seriousness, though, I think it’s dangerous to single out overweight people for their sins against our national health statistics. For one rather important thing, it fails to take into account the varying causes of obesity: many people are genetically fated to suffer from it, while others foolishly waltz into a lifestyle that traps them in ill-health. The process of separating the fated from the fools would be indefensibly mean. And besides, the fools deserve sympathy: they are, after all, only submitting to a way of life, the kind Kacy describes, that is the culmination of all that we are educated and conditioned to do. Encouraging moms to stay home and televisions to drop themselves off a cliff (may as well add the impossible to the implausible) would show real concern for the total health of a person while contributing to his or her physical health. Offering economic incentive to simply slim down, which is all that our government would do, I imagine, would only reward those who conform to a statistical ideal. In the end we’d have the suffering suffer more for suffering.

If we single out the obese, then why not target everyone who is treated for psychological ailments? The modern way of life encourages that, too. America is also said to be in the midst of a “mental health crisis.” In my opinion, the field of psychiatry is overrun with quackery. However, quackery is preferable to the alternative, which currently is nothing.

My train of thought has just crashed into a brick wall. When oh when will 5 o’clock come? OMG work sux.

avatar D.W. Sabin December 18, 2009 at 6:30 pm

Oh, I get it now, this Health Care Crisis is about people’s health…gee, I wasn’t aware of that. Thanks for clearing this all up for me….I just thought they were looking for a suitable program that would make the military budget not look so bad in comparison.

avatar rex December 18, 2009 at 10:40 pm

Our perceptions are changing. I often receive comments about how skinny my sons look. The eldest is 18, 5’10′ and about 150 lbs, the youngest is 15, 5’11″ and 145 lbs. On the school yard they do look a little more frail than their peers, and today’s baggy fashions do not help, but as chance would have it, tonight they popped out of the pool at the same time at a swim meet after a hard fought relay legs. They both looked as if they were carved out of wood, young Adnoi.

Of course they have the grace of having metabolisms that an army of tape worms would envy, but there is a fundamental difference between my sons and many of their teammates. It is a vigor and wholesomeness that I do not see often anymore. Perhaps I am just foolishly proud father, but I believe there is a difference between free range and corn fed.

avatar Bob Cheeks December 18, 2009 at 11:03 pm

Does anyone not see that the man in the picture, the fat man, the man that is being mocked and derided is no more flawed than any of us self-righteous a**holes?
Why would anyone subject this man to the regulations of a corrupt state, or the criticisms of a corrupt people?
Can no one see his pain, his loneliness?
And, what is our response when we come upon a man like this? Do we offer love or friendship….hell no, we worry about what he’s going to cost the state.
Christians my ass!

avatar rufus December 18, 2009 at 11:47 pm

A slight edit: “If current trends continue, 103 million American adults will be considered obese by 2018.”

avatar rufus December 18, 2009 at 11:48 pm

To: “If current trends continue, 103 million American adults will be considered 206 million American adults by 2018.”

avatar Artie December 19, 2009 at 10:00 am

“Does anyone not see that the man in the picture, the fat man, the man that is being mocked and derided is no more flawed than any of us self-righteous a**holes?”

I thought he was Rush Limbaugh. Seriously, Cheeks, what’s Christianity got to do with it?

avatar Steve K. December 19, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Christianity has to do with everything, at least if you are a Christian. Or are there facets of human life where God may not go?

avatar Artie December 19, 2009 at 1:14 pm

Steve, God can go anywhere he likes, he’s God after all. What’s mortal Christianity’s concern with obesity and “the regulations of a corrupt state?” Jesus said we were to render unto Caesar what’s Caesar’s.

avatar John Willson December 19, 2009 at 1:39 pm

As usual, the gummint types and soccer moms of health and prohibitionists get it all wrong. Read some history, folks. At the time of our putting together reasonable governments in the 1780s the average American male was about 5’5″ and about the same around his waist. It wasn’t until about the Civil War that we started even noticing sizes–you didn’t need to know sizes until there was someplace to buy things in sizes, and that wasn’t until there were industrial sewing machines and we figured out that shoe sizes, for example, could be predicted (statistics was invented in the 19th century as well) well enough to make a million pairs for the Union army. Obesity? Cholesterol? Have you ever noticed what the standard of female beauty (naked kind, that is) was up until about the 1920s? Have you ever read an account of what the warriors ate at one of Charlemagne’s court dinners? How about the dietary habits of Mountain Men? When I worked on my wife’s uncle’s farm as a teenager we milked the cows at 5am and then had a breakfast that would knock the socks off any Bob Evans restaurant in the world then an even bigger dinner after hard work in the fields, then after chores and milking another huge meal. I hear somebody saying that this was all healthy, of course. Well, think again. Most family farmers just a couple of generations ago couldn’t put up enough food to get through the winter. My great grandfather’s family often had to feed the stock from the soft tip branches of maple trees, depleting the forest for years at a time. My mother-in-law talks about eating porridge or oatmeal, three meals a day, for the last eight weeks of winter. Americans have always been fat and have always eaten unhealthy foods.
Here’s a little more perspective. The real health problem relating to food is the ridiculous “food pyramid” the FDA and others have been trying to sell us for about a generation. If we are seeing a decline in American health due to what we eat, get the blame in the right place.

avatar Mark T. Mitchell December 19, 2009 at 9:25 pm

Some interesting comments on what is clearly a touchy subject.
John Willson, you are right that people in the past didn’t necessarily eat a “balanced diet” but the thing you ignore is the activity. It seems humans can get by eating great quantities of bacon and oatmeal as long as they are living active lives. When you take that diet, supplement it with gallons of Mountain Dew, and add televisions and cars, the outcomes are going to be different. Furthermore, your assertion that all people used to be short and fat just doesn’t sound right. You say, “read some history.” What, specifically, are you referring to? The art of the time of the American founding does not seem to support your point.

I am not, with this piece, suggesting that the government should regulate diets. but here is the problem as I see it. Obesity is increasing. The health care costs associated with obesity are clear. Thus, health care will continue to increase even as our health decreases. This seems a perfect opportunity for those who want to expand government power to point out the looming “crisis” in health care. A simply way to defuse the “crisis” is to reverse the weight gain.

What does it say about our nation that with our incredible wealth we are simply becoming larger? Are we happier? Does this national binge indicate a longing for something that food will not satisfy? This national obsession with food has a flip side, of course, and this can be seen in the diet/exercise industry where millions spend millions on special food and equipment that promise to bring happiness and thinness.

Cheeks. The reason I chose this picture is for the very reason that the man seems so sad. To be sure, a proper response to suffering individuals is compassion. But at the same time, it is surely possible to speak of aggregates and policies. This is a piece about public policy and the threat of expanding government power. I would submit that it is not Christian compassion to subject any person to the “care” of a paternalistic, centralized bureaucracy. Frankly, that’s the easy way out, for it alleviates personal responsibility and attenuates personal human contact, and these are precisely the best means to help those who are hurting.

avatar Lewis December 20, 2009 at 8:44 am

Nah, we’re getting bigger, much bigger. Who’s to blame? Well, everyone, mostly. You, me, society, food producers, agricultural policy, big pharma . . . none too many blameless folks in this picture. I imagine Richard Simmons as Diogenes . . . .

The Ag Secretary under Nixon, Earl Butz, started pushing the “go big or go home” model of farming, “fencerow to fencerow.” As a consequence, food has gotten a lot cheaper in America. Also as a consequence, food has gotten a lot worse in America.

The USG pays subsidies for the production of corn, which means we have lots of corn. What to do with all this corn, particularly when its cheap? We feed it to animals, including cows. Of course, we also juice the cows up with hormones and antibiotics, so they grow faster and better tolerate their sedate, unnatural lifestyle.

I’d think this was an issue of supreme interest to the FPRers.

We’ve got questions of scale and conformity and state planning: plant fencerow to fencerow, corn and soy and wheat, ignore crop rotation and focus on monoculture, be a cog in the machine! We’ve got questions of synthetic approximations of reality: meat is meat, right, only the grass fed, grass finished, hormone and antibiotic free beef I buy from local producers is an entirely different product than the “industrial beef” churned out in CAFOs and dependent on cheap, subsidized grain and modern industrial pharma.

It really is different.

I’ve always been (how did Tolkein put it?) inclined to stoutness. I took advantage of the convenience and cheapness of modern industrial food, and wondered why I stayed fat.

I suspected I could get in shape, by combining with asceticism of a Buddhist monk with a touch of self-torturing Neitzchean superman. I didn’t want to do that!

Then a friend started talking to me about the paleo diet, and authors like Gary Taubes, Loren Cordain and Art de Vany. I was skeptical, but I like to read, so I read a little more about it.

The simplest description of the paleo diet is don’t eat grains. Eat animals and plants, but stay away from grains and highly processed foods. Use butter instead of margarine. Embrace saturated fat, avoid (much) carbohydrate intake, avoid sugars.

By following these guidelines, and incorporating moderate exercise (long walks and some homemade medicine ball play), I’ve lost fifty pounds of fat in the last year, and put on about fifteen pounds of muscle, and it’s been easy. I feel better, I look better, I’m a better husband and father . . . and I’m helping to support locally produced, small scale agriculture.

What’s not to love?

My wife was diagnosed with gestational diabetes a couple of months back. The doctor graciously agreed to let us try and control it through dietary means before going on insulin. My wife began to adopt the principles I’d been losing weight on . . . limited sugars, limited grains, green leafy vegetables and meat . . . and she is controlling her blood sugar without insulin supplementation.

Look at our skyrocketing obesity, and diabetes, and cancer, and consider that our USDA recommended diet has changed, and changed markedly, in the last thirty years. Our genetics hasn’t changed that much in that time frame, so why are we doing so much worse?

Check out, if you are interested, Mark Sisson’s website “Mark’s Daily Apple” or google/noodle around searching for the “paleo diet” for vast amounts of information. Heck, the collective I write for, “The Paleo Garden,” addresses many of these type issues.

Don’t be SAD! (Standard American Diet.)

avatar Jeffrey Polet December 20, 2009 at 10:19 am

Mark,

I, too, have found it interesting that health reform has not addressed behavioral issues. Consider, for example:

In 2007 Americans spent over $12 billion on cosmetic surgery, which is more than four times all of Europe combined. Among that spending:

*$1.3 billion for breast augmentation, and another half a billion for breast lifts.
*$2.3 billion for botox injections.
*Nearly a billion for liposuction, and $800 million for tummy tucks.
*91% of all cosmetic surgeries are performed on women, and more than a third of those are between the ages of 30 and 40.
*42% of cosmetic patients are repeat patients.

Or further, let’s say, for example, that I am told I am at risk for type-2 diabetes if I don’t curtail my sugar consumption. Despite the doctor’s warning, I continue to pound high amounts of glucose and develop type-2 diabetes, with all its attendant medical problems. This is not a failure on the part of the system, but it does generate tremendous costs to the system. In the meantime, such behavior will almost certainly lower my life expectancy. In this instance, there might be an aggregate lowering in life expectancy, but it’s not clear how this implicates the delivery system itself. Doctors don’t always have mechanisms to insure certain outcomes precisely because of choices people make. Given the affluence of our society, people are more likely to make decisions that create medical complications, but within a context that will provide treatment for those complications. There has been a dramatic increase in type-2 diabetes in this society, and that generates related costs (an estimated $23 billion in 2006). Think about other behavior specific costs: smoking ($157 billion with another $92 billion in lost wages), alcohol consumption ($22.5 billion in health care costs, $175 billion in total related costs), drug use, etcetera.

There is no magic bullet for healthcare reform. Your article is a good demonstration of how government reform doesn’t solve or perhaps even address core problems.

avatar Marion Miner December 20, 2009 at 4:32 pm

Kacy: I agree completely with everything you mentioned – except for the last part. Individual Americans have the choice to eat healthy or eat garbage, and it is not the responsibility of the government to penalize the populace for poor eating habits. Excessive government taxes on alcohol and tobacco are absurd – carrying that practice over to non-healthy foods would only widen what is already a stupid practice. I’m personally insulted by the government dictating to me what my habits should be. If I want to drink, if I want to smoke, if I so choose to indulge in some Oreos, I’m going to do it, so get the hell out of my way. I know – trust us, we actually do know – that abuse of an objective good (which I would argue alcohol, tobacco and sugar all are) is hazardous to our health.

All of that said, healthier eating habits and regular exercise of the body is the key to a physically healthier country, as we all have stated. The fact that most Americans do not have time to exercise regularly due to overdemanding jobs, I thought, was a very good point to bring forward.

I’d like to say that I thought this a good post, though I personally could have gone without the fat guy’s backside greeting me every time I visit the page.

avatar Marion Miner December 20, 2009 at 4:37 pm

On a side note, Mark: I read your FPR bio and see that you teach at Patrick Henry. I attended Christendom College, so I’ve had a little contact with the school. Those I met seemed like good people; I hope everything’s going well.

avatar John Willson December 20, 2009 at 8:07 pm

Jeff, Those stats are just that–stats of a super-rich nation that can afford to sex up its women. It has nothing to do with health, however. Obesity, and that’s a definition that has only relative meaning, if it exists, has to do with not only our fast food culture, but with our drug culture, and I don’t mean illegal drugs. The three biggest causes of death yearly in the US right now are heart, cancer, and doctor-hospitals. Deflecting the discussion to something as abstract as “obesity” or pointing to procedures that people with too much money will do anyway or that our stupid system will pay for begs the whole question.

avatar Bob Cheeks December 20, 2009 at 10:05 pm

Brilliant rejoinder, Willson!
Hear, Hear!
I believe you have struck home with the winning point! Let these consolidators and nanny-staters take care to leave the provincial to his own business!

“The three biggest causes of death yearly in the US right now are heart, cancer, and doctor-hospitals.”
You, sir, have made my day!

avatar Jeffrey Polet December 20, 2009 at 10:59 pm

John,

I’m not sure what your post has to do with my post, or Mark’s post. As I understand Mark’s original post, he is saying that health care reform, in the sense of controlling costs and providing more coverage, won’t be effective if we don’t address some basic cultural/behavioral issues at the same time. My “statistics” were simply an extension of that argument; statistics specifically chosen to demonstrate that a lot of money is being spent on non-essential things. My point is that items such as these are all implicated in health care reform. You respond by talking about the causes of death. Well, that’s fine, but it has nothing to do with anything I was talking about. Who’s begging the question here?

avatar D.W. Sabin December 21, 2009 at 10:39 am

Plastic Surgery, in its cosmetic , elective form remains one of the more emphatic displays of how dysfunctional we are. Looking at thirty something starlets with bulbous lips and Buick Bumper Breasts or 60 year old matrons with a kind of sick, Kewpie Doll on acid visage…and them insisting it was to make them more attractive…well, it is hilariously sad.

avatar Katherine T December 26, 2009 at 2:06 pm

A few people have asked the classic (and important) question, “What is to be done? How can we bring obesity levels down?” I would like to suggest that relationships and good community have a lot to do with it. I have two specific thoughts on that.

First, I’m training for a marathon and it has been amazingly hard to feel motivated to run alone. Training with my sister is a blast, though, and there’s a program with my local running club where adults pair up with at-risk youth to train for marathons. Wow, that could bring down the obesity rate and possibly deal with some deeper spiritual/emotional issues that have huge cultural implications, too. Perhaps I’ll need to find time to invest in that program and train with an at-risk high school student. Sounds like it could even be fun.

But there’s a deeper level at which community is important for maintaining health. Obesity is bad, but food is good. Food is more than just something to sustain our personal bodies; eating is also one of the best ways to have good times with others. Enjoying food together, it seems, also facilitates good emotional and spiritual health. What does this all mean for obesity? Well, I wonder if obesity levels would go down if we had meals together more often? I don’t have a study to cite here, but it seems that I’m less likely to eat 7 cookies if I’m eating with friends who might notice. And if I eat a good healthy meal with my family, I won’t need a midnight snack. It’s ironic, but I think that being too busy to sit and thankfully eat together may actually contribute to obesity in America.

avatar dave December 27, 2009 at 6:52 pm

There have been some articles in the Atlantic on the GDP; an article by Megan McArdle in the Atlantic in November:
http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200911/mcardle-gdp
and an older one by Clifford Cobb, Ted Halstead, and Jonathan Rowe:
http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/ecbig/gdp.htm

They are about the merit of the GDP but give a perspective on the current health care debate – that is, in my opinion, both overeating and the resultant required health care spending end up being “good” for the economy, or at least good for how we measure our economy. Someone who eats out all the time, becomes obese and has to go on medications is better for the GDP than someone who lives with a bit more caution or restraint.

I’m not suggesting any sort of grand conspiracy, just people in various industries trying to increase their particular profits. But together, the government, big agriculture and big pharma seem to have found a situtation in which they all support each others growth.

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