Obesity: Is Government the Cure?

Obesity is now officially a disease, at least according to the American Medical Association.

Despite this recent designation, obesity has long been a killer: 300,000 deaths are attributed to obesity annually. The condition is also associated with an increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, breathing problems, arthritis, depression, and many other ailments. Although these deaths and illness are largely preventable, Washington has been slow to take up any large-scale action to combat this epidemic.

Original image: The Obama-Biden Transition Project | Pete Souza

Original image: The Obama-Biden Transition Project | Pete Souza

But now, lawmakers have been moving on ways to fight the obesity epidemic.

The Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act sets new standards for fats, sugars and sodium in meals prepared and sold in schools.

The Treat and Reduce Obesity Act aims at providing expanded treatment for obesity to medicaid and medicare beneficiaries.

• State governments are setting new standards for physical education, like House Bill 11-1069 in Colorado requiring physical activity for all elementary school children.

• A Group of 18 big city mayors sent a letter to the federal government pushing for a ban on the use of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits to buy soda and sugary drinks.

• Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued an executive order and proposed 2 laws aimed at increasing visibility and access to stairs in New York City buildings.

These measures presented by government officials raise the question: Is it even possible for the government to fix this problem? Policy is often an effective tool, but the spread of obesity across the United States is a complex issue.

In the 1960s, when the White House officially backed the harmfulness of cigarettes, like it has with obesity today, swift action was taken. The Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act outright banned cigarette advertising on television and radio. There is a website and hotline run by the government specifically to stop smoking. Marketing for tobacco is one of the most heavily regulated in the country. The tobacco situation is very similar to obesity. Research suggests that obesity is worse than smoking and if obesity is worse than smoking, wouldn’t one expect even harsher moves by the government to curb it?

Harsher moves are surfacing. The anti-smoking initiative seems to be playing out in the form of anti-obesity. The White House is starting with the children, just like with anti-smoking. Physical education is becoming mandated. School stores, lunchrooms, and vending machines are all newly regulated to promote anti-obesity. There is discussion of banning the advertisement of unhealthy and sugary foods during children’s programming, just like it is for tobacco and alcohol. How soon will it be before there are “emotion evoking” (disturbing) advertisements, like this one, on TV for anti-obesity? When will children start explaining which obesity risks they learned in school, like they do now because of drug abuse education programs? The White House can play a big role in fighting the obesity epidemic if it wants to. Policy has proven effective. The percentage of smokers in America has decreased by more than half since the government launched its anti-smoking initiative. It seems it can be done with obesity as well.

But wait, are they allowed to do this?

The precedent has been set by tobacco industry regulation. Obesity is an epidemic and the government can enact policy to prevent the further spread of the disease.

But wait, should they do this?

Why shouldn’t they? It is in the best interest of the White House. Anti-obesity policy would result in healthier citizens. It would result in fewer citizens who are unfit for combat because of weight. And it would save the United States billions in healthcare costs and economic productivity loss related to obesity.

But wait, should they be allowed to do this?

That is up to the citizens. How much of this problem is one of personal responsibility?



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Ian Bass

Ian Bass hopes to attend medical school one day. But for now, he is excited to be a part of the Almost Doctor’s Channel team. For fun, Ian enjoys hiking, swimming, football, or a nice relaxing movie.