Sunday, October 10, 2010

Obesity and the Decline of America

I had recently read an article from the centrist think-tank Brookings Institute entitled "The Economic Impact of Obesity."  Right when I read the abstract that said that two-thirds of Americans are overweight and one-third are downright obese, it got me thinking about how obesity affects American life.

Before continuing, I would like to clarify a few things.  First and foremost is that this is not an attempt for me to say that being overweight makes you inherently immoral.  That much should be self-evident, but I needed to re-iterate in the event that anyone misconstrues my intentions.  The second is that if we are going to have a serious conversation about this topic, we need to throw out the misconceived notion that obesity is primarily or solely caused by genetics.  The fact that the rate of obesity has doubled since the 1970s negates this myth.  The primary reason that so many people have become overweight is because of an ignorance of a healthy, balanced diet.  Less and less people know what a good diet consists of, and their children learn that from their parents.  If you found an actual case of genetically-caused obesity, this would be called an exception, not the norm.  Finally, I am not the biggest fan of the Body Mass Index (BMI).  It measures your weightiness based on a height to weight ratio.  There are some people who are truly big-boned, and there are some exceptionally muscular people that would not be considered fat (FYI, muscle weighs more than fat).  However, these exceptions do not cover the prevailing norm, which is that most people are fat because they don't know the first thing about good eating and exercise.  That is why I still give the aggregate BMI measurements validity.

 I was floored to see some of the economic impacts that obesity has had on America.  Just to name a few:

  • Those who are obese (i.e., with a BMI of 30 or higher) have 50% higher health care costs than the healthy-weight group, and the overweight (i.e., with a BMI between 25 and 30) have costs 20% higher. 
  • If we got rid of obesity, we would be able to cut Medicare spending by 8.5% an Medicaid by 11.8%.
  • Obese workers were 194% more likely to use time off due to weight-related issues.  This total lost productive time is estimated to be at $11.7 billion a year.
  • Because we have to make seats bigger in transportation and have to use more gasoline to transport heavier people, it is estimated that the cost in this sector is an extra $2.7 billion a year.
  • It was also found that obesity can even impact factors such as self-esteem, intelligence, GPA, and probability of getting married.  In short, it cuts off the growth of human capital.
Some of you are probably wondering why I am so disputatious about this.  It might have to do something with the increasing level of nationalizing the health care in this country.  Essentially, what Obamacare, or any other socialist health care plan, does is pool all the Americans together and tries to find a "one size fits all" health care program.  This means they have to cover just about everything, which translates into an increased premium costs.  Think about it.  All the Americans are pooled together, and most of them are overweight.  Insurance companies will inevitably have to raise premiums in order to cover their losses. 

That is why someone like me who, as of date, has a BMI that is under 25 and never has needed to go to the hospital for any overweight-induced conditions, is coming off as belligerent.  What is the price of me living a healthy lifestyle and trying to make that lifestyle even healthier? Skyrocketing health care prices!  I have to pay for the shmuck who thinks that eating Twinkies and Big Macs everyday is a wonderful thing because "you only live once."  If you want to commit self-destructive behavior, that's fine, but please, don't drag me into your mess.  But you won't see that happen because Americans have increasingly become dependent on government.  Americans have the rising expectation that somebody else will take care of the problem, which throws any notion of personal responsibility out the window. 

Let me elaborate on why this problem of obesity will not go away, and that it will probably get worse.  Since we live in a shame culture, as opposed to a guilt culture, we have to render ourselves blameless and without fault in order to get through the day.  This means that no one will ever take personal responsibility for things that are actually their fault, as it is the case with poor diet and lack of exercise.  If Americans go with the view of "I'm fine just the way I am, and I don't need to change the fact that I eat 3,000 calories a day because that would hurt my precious, little self-esteem," then there will never ever be a call for personal change.  And why should there be?  The government is going to cover the bill anyways.  And we all know that the money for that grows on trees, and not from hard-working taxpayers who generate revenue in a market-based economy.  If things are going to get better with respects to the economic impact of obesity, each American individual needs to take personal responsibility both for their health and any health-related costs they accrue.  But why bother with such a dream?  Most Americans are so lethargic and self-indulged that this will be as likely to happen as Obama ceasing from being a socialist that continues to ruin our country on a daily basis. 

But again, I would love to see a change where the individual has self-respect, self-reliance, and a sense of personal responsibility.  For those who believe that the only realist is an idealist, if you want change, you had best realize the gap between the current situation and the idealized one.

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