the important and the not-so-important, horribly conflated.

obesity, soda tax, & calorie counts

In human behavior on July 10, 2009 at 5:43 pm


The above graph (“% rise in health expenditures 01-06 for people classified as…”), posted on ezra klein’s blog this morning, was one of those visuals that you look at, think “that seems about right,” then realize a few hours later how incredibly depressing and unsustainable the trend it represents (oh, and our nonchalance towards the  backwards reality it depicts) is. so i blog:

1) why/how did we get to this point? pollan (omnivore’s dilemma): massive subsidization of corn and the substitution of food products for, you know, actual food. me: the backwards food industry + inadequate health education + delayed food stamp reform + lack of health insurance –> lack of periodical checkups –> no early interventions + the proven idiocy of fad diets + consumer ambivalence/ignorance towards/of the above.

2) will the soda tax—either 5 or 10 cents—proposed in the house version of the health reform bill to help fund increased coverage (& a public plan, please?), do anything to combat this? not really… unless: a) there are also tax breaks/incentives for buying healthy food, and b) there’s a trigger for a greater tax if the above graph doesn’t change (the fallacy of a straight-up tax is that it doesn’t adapt to the shifting trends of an undeniably dynamic epidemic), and c) it’s labeled, on every bottle. my suggestion: “to accurately represent the actual public and personal health costs associated with drinking soda, the price you see includes a _ cent tax.” seriously.

3) while you’re on labels, should the whole country follow new york’s lead and put calorie counts next to every fast food menu? YES. the faster the better. public awareness is raised when people simply become conscious of the choices they make on a hourly/daily/monthly basis about their food consumption. ever wonder why fast food restaurants give their meals a number? it’s not for their convenience—it’s to alienate you from the simple fact that what is most convenient is not always the best thing for you.

I know, it’s all very rant-y and elitist-as-arugula—but I direct none of my frustration towards the millions of americans who are obese, or the subset of that population that indeed considers these arguments and struggles with their family and doctors to find their own solution.  I was challenged once by some buddies of mine who couldn’t understand why I kept giving a mutual friend of ours a hard time about his eating habits. I apologized for the (unnecessary) anger with which I criticized him, but I added that yes, it was ultimately his choice what he ate—but his decisions now directly contribute to whether or not he is, down the line, given a choice about the clinical options in treating type II diabetes or heart problems or any other obesity-derived condition. and i asked him: which choice did he want to have agency over? the US legislature should be asking themselves that same question as they’re given the choice between what’s politically safe when it comes to health reform and what could be transformative.


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