Straining under the weight

Obesity is a big problem, but government isn't the solution

Imagine the federal government of the United States came to your door with a national security problem – and asked you to handle it.

Well, it essentially is.

Obesity has become so common and so chronic that it is now a national health and budget crisis – one that endangers the future strength and vitality of the nation.

A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study predicts 42 percent of Americans will be obese by 2030 (aren’t they already?), and that 10 percent will be morbidly obese – meaning 100 pounds or more overweight (aren’t they already?).

“If these predictions come true, health care costs in the U.S. will increase by well over half a trillion dollars,” says registered dietician Tim Gustafson, writing in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Gustafson notes that, technically, only 30 percent are now considered obese, but that 60 percent are classified as having weight problems.

If accurate, these projections paint a picture of an American health-care system, already straining under the weight of our unhealthy lifestyles, having to absorb untold millions more folks with obesity-related maladies, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Even if all these people were as fit as a fiddle, we’d have a demographic problem on our hands – with the baby-boom generation moving into retirement and being supported by a shrinking workforce. The nation is already $100 trillion behind in funding future retirement and senior health care. But weight-related illness will only make matters worse. Much worse.

That we’re facing a growing crisis isn’t the question anymore. The only question is what we’ll do about it.

And who will do it.

Some experts say you are powerless to control your weight, and the government must step in and do it for you.

“The average person cannot maintain a healthy weight in this obesity-promoting environment,” Dr. Shiriki Kumanyika of the Institute of Medicine told Reuters.

That’s just poppycock. But that mentality will be used to encourage government restrictions on the locations of restaurants, the size of community infrastructure and even tax policy, including a surtax on sugary drinks.

If people were that helpless and in need of a government nanny, then obesity would be beyond 30 percent by now.

Certainly we’re fighting societal influences. Restaurants are more ubiquitous today, and their portions big (and controlled by them, not you). They cook up some tasty treats, too, often with the power of cunning cooks in corporate kitchens. They make it so easy and delicious to eat so unhealthy! And then there are the sugary soft drinks they almost throw at you, often in containers so large they resemble gasoline pumps. It’s also enlightening to know what’s in all that stuff.

Can you say “processed foods”?

Yes, of course you can. And you also have the freedom and ability to limit them.

Sorry, CDC and IOM – absent real medical problems, it does come down to willpower. The Greatest Generation has given way to the “Cravingest” Generation. Today’s generations have a lot more culinary temptations than our predecessors, you bet – and more cable channels, video games and websites to lure us away from exercise – but come on. Are we really going to tell the generation that defeated tyranny on both sides of the globe that we can’t defeat doughnuts?

How big a problem is this? As Gustafson notes, obesity-related illness accounts for “about 20 percent of all spending on health care today, about $190 billion annually, not counting rising insurance premiums, lost productivity and missed work days due to illness.”

But while this may be a weighty national security problem, it’s not a government one. No one’s dropping milkshakes out of black U.N. helicopters.

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