great big fat problem
America, the land of plenty.
Plenty of fat. America is the fattest country on earth.
More than 58 million Americans are
overweight, 40 million are obese, 3 million are morbidly obese, and
nearly 300,000 die each year of obesity.
Plenty of weighty statistics back
up the point that America wallows in fat. This is not exactly news; but
in a world in which 8 million people (6 million of them children) starve
to death each year, it is newsworthy. The human, social and economic
costs of obesity in America are incalculable and they are tragic.
A few of the costs can be
reckoned. The yearly health care cost of obesity in America is nearly
$120 billion. Insurance claims come to nearly $80 billion, about half of
that paid by Medicare and Medicaid.
Even in little Idaho, between 1998
and 2000 obesity cost Medicare $40 million and Medicaid $69 million.
Personal choice is as American as
apple pie a la mode, but the irresponsible personal choices that have
created America’s gargantuan waistline and health problems costs
everybody. Misspent taxes and steeply rising insurance premiums are only
two of the costs. A recent study concluded that "food and the smell of
food can trigger the same brain chemicals activated by addictive drugs."
For the sake of overweight
Americans and healthier taxpayers who wind up helping to pay for their
excess, something needs to be done to create a leaner America.
The answer is not in suing the
food industry for obesity related health problems. The Idaho House was
right to pass the "Commonsense Consumption Act" this week which forbids
such law suits. People may not always eat for sustenance, but they need
to be responsible for their choices. To do that, they need to be better
They will be if legislators
encourage insurance companies to offer incentives to people who eat
well, exercise regularly, and whose body fat does not weigh down the
health care system. Rep. Margaret Henbest of Boise is pushing bills to
allow insurance companies to offer discounts to healthy people, and
another to make those companies pay for weight reduction plans for the
morbidly obese. Henbest doesn’t have all the answers, but she’s ahead of
the field and on the right track.
Legislators could mandate that
restaurants label the ingredients in their food.
Schools need to educate students
about the consequences of a diet heavy on Trans Fatty Acids, sugar and
other fattening, unhealthy foods. Sugar filled soft drink vending
machines in schools should be replaced by water fountains and exercise.