Can Big Government Cure Obesity?

uncle sam obesity 192x300 Can Big Government Cure Obesity?Before I get started with this post, I would like to address my Libertarian cousins who have already started yelling at me that big government can’t “cure” anything,

I am asking /pleading/begging you to withhold judgement for 5 minutes, read a little bit further, chew on my ideas a little bit…and then tell me how the private sector could do everything I am proposing and do it better and cheaper.

This article is about the ideas…not who delivers those ideas into reality.

If the private sector can do it better…I am all for them taking charge. The reason I am raising the idea of government intervention is that they have the infrastructure to make the widespread changes that I am hypothesizing about.

Whether they would screw it up is another question altogether. For a few minutes, let’s pretend that we have a theoretical government that isn’t bloated, lazy and/or corrupt and see how this public sector could help cure obesity.

How can big government cure obesity?

. Let’s start by asking ourselves what do politicians like to do? .

  1. Take credit for good ideas
  2. Increase tax revenue
  3. Promise tax relief to the voters
  4. And occasionally make life better for their fellow man.

All in an effort to ensure re-election….and potentially do some good for their fellow man. .

Now that we know all of this…how do we use these political characteristics to reverse our¬†epidemic of obesity?

  1. Enact junk food taxes ala the sin taxes many governments already slap on tobacco and alcohol. New York state is getting close to enacting this type of legislation right now. And once New York has done it, other states are sure to draft similar legislation. Just think of all those new tax dollars coming into government treasuries.
  2. Implement tax credits that promote health/fitness and a rocking set of abs. But, unlike current fitness tax credits, they should be available to all people, and more importantly, be based on participation and not simply on money spent. If 75% of gym memberships are abandoned after 6 months, why are we giving full tax credits. The people who exercise are the ones who should get the credit.
  3. The tax income derived from the junk food tax should NOT be lumped in with other taxes. If possible, the taxes and tax credits should be revenue neutral. If this isn’t possible, excess tax revenue should be kept in a separate account to be used only for health & fitness projects.
  4. Most importantly, to encourage maximum participation and discourage pork barrel politics, instead of large, national programs, money should be funneled down to teeny-weeny little grassroots projects that are close to the people that actually need the support and who can do it cheaper & better (see I told you I was part libertarian).

Alright, that’s enough for today.

Next upCan We “Cure” Obesity?

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Doug Robb is a personal trainer, a fitness blogger and author, a competitive athlete, a social media nerd and a student of nutrition and exercise science. Since 2008, Doug has brought his real-world experience online via his health & fitness blog, Health Habits.

17 Comments

  1. shaun bevins

    April 5, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    Well, though an American…I am still a socialist moron and proud of it. I absolutely believe that government has the power to promote big change. And what better use of government than to use it to promote something good, something most of us agree needs fixing.

    I completely agree with a junk food tax. Why not…we already tax alcohol and tobacco. And honestly, why should I have to pay for your stupid and reckless behavior. You want to eat that junk fine…but your choices do effect me and what I pay for healthcare, disability, etc. So yes, got my vote.

    I like the idea of tax credits for health behavior. Isn’t it ironic that in the US we currently reward mothers for returning to work by offering families child care tax credits but don’t reward mothers who chose to stay home and maybe breastfeed their kids, or cook wholesome meals. The only additional suggestion I have is tp base the credit on objective measurements like BP, or bad cholesterol levels, or BMI or for improvent etc. And maybe not even a tax credit necessarily but some sort of legislation that rewarded healthy behavior. This is probably hard to enact…but, similar things are being done elsewhere. I think it is Japan…where the government is requiring anyone with a waist circumference over a certain amount to participate in counseling for their weight. Might seem like a violation of their rights…but honestly, do people really want to be unhealthy? Really???

    I also like 3 and 4…and I have a few more to add to your list…(Surprise??)

    The US government should prohibit big pharma from marketing directly to consumers. Those breastfeeding packets they give out at the hospital should actually promote breastfeeding and not the formul they manufacture (not knocking formula, but health experts everywhere tell us breast is best…)

    The US government should prevent false advertising…terms like good or excellent sources of whole grains…that aren’t well defined, essentially meaningless but confusing and misleading to consumers.

    The US government should stop putting higher labeling standards on whole foods…why they let crap slip under the radar.

    The US government should stop subsidizing corn and instead invest in technologies like local green houses that allow fresh fruits and veggies to be grown locally, without chemicals and shipping our produce from around the globe…I mean really do we need to buy blueberries from ecuador??.

    See…up there in Canada you don’t have to worry about the big bad boogieman known as government. This isn’t about telling people how to live their lives. Hell…big food already tells us how to live our lives, how come Americans aren’t outraged by that. What kind of choice do Americans have when 4 major manufacturers essentially produce all the food we buy…what type of choice do we have when junk is made cheap via subsidies that favor chains like McDonalds and real food, say like 6 oz of raspberries, cost 6 dollars?

    This is about doing the right thing. The obesity epidemic is going to cost us trillions…literally. Not to mention the cost that can’t be calucated like quality of life. Top US military officials are actually claiming it is a matter of national security. Americans are so fat and out of shape…they aren’t fit to serve. Kids, little kids are developing diabetes.

    Just like obamacare. The obamacare program is designed to be implemented at the state level. States have a huge amount of control over how their state plan as run as long as it meets the mandate to insure everyone. If Amercians could just get over themselves and actually think about what is at stake, well maybe then we could make some progress.

    Listen, I am all for personal responsibility, for freedom. I am a breastfeeding, organic eating, homeschooling mom who wants to be able to live life the way I want. But government, if actually run by the people, can be a tool for positive change.

    Just read a great article the other day about Germany. The government is actually encouraging docs to prescribe placebos. See it turns out for certain chronic conditions placebos are as effective if not more effective than some of the nasty drugs that get prescribed now. Can’t do that here in good ole America.

    Doc…when you launch your compaign…let me know, I’ll be right there cheering you on…seriously.

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  4. Polish girl

    November 27, 2010 at 5:36 am

    I didn’t read all posts, but I think the government should take an example from Finland, because Finland is one of the top countries with the lowest child obesity.

  5. Nancy

    November 15, 2010 at 11:05 am

    Hm. To answer your question bluntly, no. Big government cannot cure obesity, but there are methods of regulation that should be imposed in order to temper some of it’s effects.

    My belief regarding the sin taxes is that they are not designed to limit consumption of junk food, but increase state revenue due to their over-consumption. Similarly, if the government cared that much about peoples use of tobacco, they wouldn’t add graphic pictures of post-mortem smokers on the cartons while simultaneously accepting money from tobacco lobbyists– they would just stop selling cigarettes. That said, the amount of money that comes in from peoples refusal to quit smoking equates to new roads, snow plowing, and police and fire services for me. I can’t imagine for a second that sin taxes are truly designed to deal with obesity.

    I’m very glad that others brought up the burden these taxes might have on the poor. I think a concern here is really about how large junk food chains have targeted low-income and minority populations with billboards, commercials, and location of their franchises. This is where I feel people can benefit from regulation by big government by leveling out how much advertising a certain group is exposed to. I live in Colorado, which is said to be the only state with adult obesity rates below 30%. This is also a predominantly white state, and more cities here enjoy below average unemployment rates. We do have fast food restaurants, but what I do not see is giant billboards or posters at my gym advertising them.

    As for tax credits only for people who bother exercising, in Colorado, many of us do our exercising in the mountains, the rivers, and the snow. Hence a higher level of fitness than the rest of the state. I only retreat to my gym for 3 months a year. Certainly there’s no way to prove my exercise regimen, but certainly I deserve a tax credit based on your criteria.

    Another issue to consider is the nature of work in the US. For the employed, a standard work day is longer than 9-5 now. This, in addition to household responsibilities spells over-exhaustion. While it’s easy to appreciate on paper the benefits of exercise and healthy eating in the face of a stressful life, getting started must feel near to impossible for many.

    Prior to Obamacare, many employers, including my
    own, have had to cut back by cutting out healthcare benfits for employees. I couldn’t purchase my own because of a pre-existing condition and spent $500 a month out of pocket on two prescriptions. I now pay for the federal plan at the same price as most other plans, it’s not just handed to me for free. At the end of the day, even if this legislation isn’t perfect, it’s the beggining of moving in a direction that is necessary.

  6. Hyo

    September 20, 2010 at 2:16 am

    I’m pretty much an anti-Obamacare guy. I’m one of those limited government types who has more faith in individuals than in big government.

    Frankly, your big government up there may work well, but the big government down here needs a 4 year plan subsidized by a NEA grant to figure out how to change a light bulb.

    We have some of the worst schools and educational programs in the world, yet our total spending per student is reported to be over 3,300 per capita (probable should check this). We have “race to the top,” “no child left behind,” blah, blah, blah.

    And what…

    And now Obama and gang proposes to do to healthcare what we have done to education.

    That’s just plain nuts.

    On on the merits of Obamacare, it’s a wreck. The sweetheart deals, backroom handshakes, the procedural sleight of hand – all for what – to pass a historic legislation.

    If the uninsured is the issue, let’s deal with that. In Florida, where I was sucking wind for awhile, we used a combination of “free” health clinics, medicare, kidcare, and home remedies to get us by. Is that practical to all, maybe not.

    But again, is the uninsured the issue or affordable health care? Is the issue getting everyone the same, standardized health plan regardless of income (except congress and prez, of course – oh, and the unions – they get the best) or is getting everyone affordable healthcare?

    I would submit the issues are different.

    I would submit that the Obamacare is a political piece of legislation Obama and most of those who voted for it did not read and do not know what is in it.

    That’s just pathetic.

    My humble opinion, of course I have been known to wrong on occasion, or two.

    PS – on the issue of obesity, though, I have less faith in the individual there and am willing to look at some actions that forces obese folks and those that enable them to be accountable for their actions.

    I hate the fat gene excuse (however valid it might be)

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  14. Dr Dan

    April 7, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    I am definitely not anti Obama and very pro government intervention in health care. Like you I come from a country where health care is free. My only concern with tax subsidies on junk food (and I do agree) is that it will be the politicians that will decide what is bad for you and what should be taxed. If this happened ten years ago or more they would have taxed butter and lowered the price for margarine, which we now know would be a very bad idea. Also, generally they still believe high carbs is a good thing so cereal would be exempt etc. Anyway you see my point.

  15. healthhabits

    April 7, 2010 at 11:41 am

    Wisconsin Congressman proposes obesity legislation

  16. Brit

    April 7, 2010 at 10:24 am

    My worry about junk food taxes is that they would unfairly burden the poor, who already have trouble buying expensive fruits and veggies. Maybe we should focus on making healthy food cheaper before we make junk food more expensive.

    • healthhabits

      April 7, 2010 at 10:35 am

      That’s where we plow the junk food tax money back into healthier “real” food options

      Take some of the corn subsidy & throw it at the broccoli farmers
      Take away the USDA control over school lunches or have them prove that they have the kids’ health in mind when they award contracts and/or set standards
      Throw money at urban farming

      Essentially start prioritizing health over cheap calories