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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday — February 27, 2004


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 informed.

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.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.