Fat News: The Economy of Obesity

On February 8, 2009, the New York Times interviewed health economist and author of the book, The Fattening of America, Eric Finkelstein, about the cost-benefit side of obesity.  Obesity is often correlated with lower socioeconomic status, so it surprised me to learn that the current "obesity epidemic" (a term which Finkelstein debunks in this interview) is a result of a complex and healthy economy.

Basically, it boils down to the fact that the development of certain technologies, such as convenience food, microwaves, even power windows in our cars, are all contributors to obesity in America.  And, Finkelstein says, obesity can often be explained away as a lifestyle choice, especially now that health care for obesity-related illnesses has become cheaper.  In fact, obese Americans are currently healthier than "normal weight" Americans were thirty years ago, and there is no significant relation between obesity and mortality in this country.

It's kind of interesting to look at this issue from an economic standpoint, especially since many of the arguments thin Americans like to make about how awful fat people are for wasting taxpayer moola (i.e. - I don't want my tax dollars going to pay for fatty's health care cost when fatty could just get on a treadmill and prevent it) are false.

We should feel no shame about our fatness, in essence, since there is apparently no significant cost inflicted upon the government/taxpayers to keep fat people alive and healthy (ironic, right? - healthy fat people... but it's true in a lot of cases that overweight and obese people can be healthy).  This is not to say that Finkelstein does not clearly intimate that people should be trying to lose weight, but he says that fiscally and rationally, it makes no sense to try to enact legislation to try to get obese adults to lose weight, since the cost inflicted upon the rest of America appears, at this point, to be negligible at best.  Thank God.  I had more Big Brother than I could stand in the form of the Patriot Act.


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