Obesity- More than a Health Threat?

StrategyUnit Note: Finally a posting that only mentions France for its take on food, not immigration or riots.
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Introduction

One of my favorite dishes is steak tartar (raw ground beef with raw egg and spices). I know its probably not healthy nor safe – but I accept responsibility for whatever happens. That’s the red-meat Jacksonian self-made man part of me.

But, what happens when one person’s foolishness becomes a nation’s? And creates negative repurcassions on a national level?

Call me crazy, but I am talking about diet and obesity as cross-spectrum national issue for the US (and other states).

Since 1980s, there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the US. Approximately two-thirds of Americans are said to be overweight or obese and has been correlated with the increase in weight.

Taking a pessimistic view, obesity can translate to: diseases and loss productivity (sick days), less quality manpower for the military, higher energy/transportation cost and with that pollution.

Does this warrant sufficient intervention by the Government? And is there a point when it does?

Statistics and Impact

Precise economic cost of obesity runs wildly and impossible to measure. In PBS’ “Rx for Survival”, it mentions that obesity in the United States cost 118 billion USD a year.

NY Times recently did a piece on how weight issues are also a cause of concern for the military. And in the unfortunate event of a draft, who can we draft for service when ~60% of Americans are unfit for combat?

Obesity also affects the sphere of environmental and energy issues Here is one example:

A new government study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine claims that obese passengers cost airlines an extra USD275m in fuel costs in 2000 by forcing aircraft to burn 350m more gallons of fuel due to the extra weight. The consequences of the extra fuel being used goes beyond money, according to the report, with an additional 3.8m tons of carbon dioxide being released into the air because of the increase. (Emphasis mine)

How true are these statistics? And even if they are true, does it warrant government intervention? Would this shift the way American’s think of self-responsibility? Would it be an undue burden of bureaucracy for America?

I am not sure, honestly. But, I still think this is an interesting topic to ask from a economic/security perspective – even if some would say I am taking these ideas to a far stretch.

The French Solution?

If people feel we need to combat overweight and obesity as a social issue, as opposed to personal responsibility, we do have an example of how to do this. Take for example, the butter-rich and wine drinking land of France…

Since the early 20th century, the French state has taken a strong role in supporting the “puericulture movement”, which advocated strong maternal and prenatal care taking special attention advising young mothers how to appropriately feed and influence the diet of their children. Quality and moderation in diet was also a key component in puericulture.

Overtime, this state-sponsored movement covered legal regulation on the type of food that can be served and sold at schools to restrictions on food advertisement during children shows. In October, IHT covered a recent debate in France over processed food.

And has it proven effective?

According to an article in the NYT, the rate of obesity in France is at 10% (one third less than the US) – and even this number is a recent sudden increase, only occurring with the raising “Americanization” of French food culture.

Greg Critser, author of Fat Land, writes the following in the same 2003 New York Times article:

In a recent paper the British epidemiologist D. J. Barker said it is puericulture, not red wine, that may be the secret behind the low rates of cardiovascular disease and obesity in France. By focusing on prenatal care, he argues, the nation produced healthier, more metabolically efficient babies. And by regulating feeding, erring on the ‘’little too little’’ side, French infants did not grow too quickly, an important factor in causing obesity in children in the first place.”

But will Americans ever accept a government that tells its people what to eat, limitations in fast food advertisement and aggressive health campaigns? Federal laws mandating healthier foods from major chains? What if Big Macs were taxed 300%, while food subsidies were given for healthier foods as compensation?

I dont like the idea of a Nanny State, but what choice do we have if we are eating our selves to death? Your thoughts?


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