Obesity Rates Double. Let’s Ban Transfat.

By Mark T. Mitchell for FRONT PORCH REPUBLIC
junk food

According to a story in USA Today, a recent study concludes that obesity rates have doubled world wide over the last thirty years. According to the study

in 1980, about 5% of men and 8% of women worldwide were obese. By 2008, the rates were nearly 10% for men and 14% for women….That means 205 million men and 297 million women weighed in as obese. Another 1.5 billion adults were overweight,

Obesity rates have increased steadily in all but a few of the poorest regions of the world. This does not portend well for disease, especially heart disease which is at least in part brought on by unhealthy weight.

Experts warned the increasing numbers of obese people could lead to a “global tsunami of cardiovascular disease.” Obesity is also linked to higher rates of cancer, diabetes and is estimated to cause about 3 million deaths worldwide every year.

A global tsunami? Clearly we need to get to higher ground. Quick. Unfortunately, it’s hard to move very fast given the added bulk. Of course, heart disease is no laughing matter and thus we should feel some sense of relief to learn that another study has found that blood pressure and cholesterol rates have actually decreased in the U.S. and Canada. Ah, but here’s the kicker. The decrease is due to medications widely available in these countries. Have we figured out how to have our cake (a very big one) and eat it too? Perhaps, but as our waistlines expand and as we simultaneously demand medications to prevent the naturally occurring effects of obesity, the demands on our health care system will continue to increase. This will result in rising prices as demand for treatment balloons with our national weight. Increasing prices will price some people out of the market, but surely accessible health care is a human right. Doesn’t the Constitution say something about that? Anyway, if it doesn’t it should.

This situation has called forth two predictable responses: 1) a push to reduce the costs of health care by putting the system in the hands of health care bureaucrats who will invariably find that some form of rationing is necessary to control costs, and 2) a concerted effort to enact laws to regulate what we eat in an effort to reduce obesity levels. Indeed, the first option is at least part of what must happen if health care is nationalized and burgeoning costs kept under control, and the second is proposed by one of the authors of the obesity study who suggests that

national measures like reducing salt content in prepared foods or banning transfats could make a big dent in lowering blood pressure and cholesterol rates.

Of course, blood pressure and cholesterol rates are currently being controlled by medications; however, a better diet would mean a reduction in medication, which would relieve some of the burden on the health care system. So let’s pass some laws (and empower a handful of government agencies) to reduce salt and ban transfats. Sounds like a simple solution to an obvious problem.

When a crisis looms, even if it is completely self-caused, the government is only too willing to insert itself. The pretense is always some form of “it’s for your own good” but one result will always be increased government power and a steady erosion of individual freedom. The ball is clearly in motion. The more our bodies continue to swell the greater pressure there will be for the government to address this crisis of obesity that, in turn, contributes to the spiraling costs of health care. If we continue to demand both our junk food and access to affordable health care, we shouldn’t be surprised if something (other than our pants) breaks. Strain on the system will invite increased government control, and that horse is already well out of the barn.

The alternatives to government control of health care and our diets seems pretty straight-forward. On the one hand, we can stop expecting accessible and affordable health care even as we continue to eat the junk that is making us sick. Most people don’t have the stomach for that kind of reckless abandon without a safety net. On the other hand, we can revive that old virtue of self-control. Among other things, self-control undercuts the justification (however wrong-headed) for government control. Freedom, it seems, is not free. It is only sustainable when it is characterized by self-restraint. If we continue reaching for the Twinkie, we shouldn’t be surprised to find a government bureaucrat on the other end.

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