Arnold Kling  

Economics of Obesity

Surveys Vs. Revealed Preferenc... Comment of the Week, 2003-05-1...

Obesity is getting increased attention from health policy experts and economists. Roger Bate writes,

My analysis is preliminary and in any case proves nothing, but it is indicative that fast food has little to do with overall obesity rates. If fast food were the main cause of weight gain, we would expect to see the UK and France, with high fast food penetration, being the most obese. Yet it is Greece that has the most obese population, with over 70 percent of adults clinically overweight, while the country has few McDonald's restaurants.

The [International Obesity Task Force] claims that because many of the influences on obesity are cultural and environmental, "it is no longer acceptable to blame the individual for their obesity." I couldn't disagree more; ultimately the responsibility lies with the individual.

For Discussion. How should the cost of health care to treat obesity-related problems be allocated among the individuals themselves, taxpayers, and food providers?

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (6 to date)
Eric writes:

Smoking, smoking, smoking.

That's the answer. As Americans have quit smoking, they have gotten fatter. What's the everage weight gain for a quitter, 15 pounds? How much weight has the average American gained over the last 30 years (a time when smoking rates have plunged)? 15 pounds!

Coincidence? I don't think so.

The dirty little secret about cigarettes is that if you can get past the "little" problem of them causing lung cancer (for instance, if you have some genetic trait that protects you from lung cancer), then smoking might acutally be good for you. It keeps you thin, which wards off the obesity related problems.

How about we sue all the do-gooders that fought the war on cigarettes for the costs related to the unintended consequences of ex-smoker related obesity!

David writes:

Interesting comment by Eric. I'm surprised I've never heard it before.

The cost of health care for all ailments, especially preventable ones, should be assumed by the individual - or altrusts who might want to help on their own initiative.

One of my great fears about socialized medicine is that it will justify and even neccesitate government interventions in just about every part of our lives! Seatbelts, motorcycle helments, smoking? That's just the beginning! Fast food, salt, tie-shoes (podiatry),... That's still the beginning.

Imagine society where lights are out at 9pm, and a strenuous exercise regime begins at 6am, followed by a bland breakfast (no coffee), limited time at the keyboard (what's the word for 'care of the hand'), ... until evening when you get *exactly* 2.34 glasses of wine (red only) with a fish (oily fish only) dinner, etc.

Arnold Kling writes:

I don't think that reduced smoking is the whole story. As an article in the latest Atlantic Monthly points out, the obesity epidemic is worldwide. I don't think other countries have clamped down on smoking as hard as we have, so I am inclined to go with the usual suspects of less exercise and increased food supply.

Philip writes:

I think that the original posting states the problem in morally absolute terms that may not be helpful in dealing with the problem. I thought that Richard Posner's point is that the best way to solve social problems was to make the person who could deal with them at the lowest cost responsible for solving or reducing the problem. It very well may be that the obese individual is the person who can deal with the problem at the lowest cost. But no evidence has been introduced to prove this. The very analysis is more like a preacher and less like a social scientist.

Eric writes:


I don't doubt that there are many factors to the trend toward obesity. But smoking is a BIG factor.

Eric writes:


I don't doubt that there are many factors to the trend toward obesity. But smoking is a BIG factor.

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