Over the past few years, lawmakers have stepped up their efforts to fight obesity in America. From first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on super-sized sugary drinks, the nation’s political leaders are working to attack the obesity epidemic in America. It’s clear that people across America, ranging from those who have a traditional or online masters in public health to ordinary citizens, want to slash health care costs by upping the fight against fat. Programs like “Let’s Move” emphasize prevention, while regulations like the New York City soda ban attempt to legislate choice.
The Price of Obesity
According to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), two-thirds of America’s population is overweight or obese. Additionally, one-third of children are overweight or obese. The consequences of obesity can include:
- Cardiovascular disease. Conditions include hypertension, high blood lipids and triglycerides, heart disease, and stroke.
- Chronic illnesses. Illnesses such as diabetes, liver disease, gallbladder disease, metabolic syndrome, asthma, sleep apnea, and some types of cancer are more prevalent among the obese.
- Decreased mobility. People who are obese experience higher incidences of arthritis, chronic back pain, and other mobility challenges.
- Reproductive disorders. Women who are obese have a higher rate of reproductive disorders including infertility and irregular periods. They also have higher incidences of pregnancy complications like preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and birth defects.
- Mental health challenges. Obesity correlates with higher incidences of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.
- Poor quality of life. People who are obese experience more employer discrimination and work impairment, meaning lower incomes and more time away from work. They also have lower life expectancies, greater risk of hospitalization, and increased mortality from all causes.
The Harvard School of Public Health reports that obesity accounts for 21 percent of all health care spending in America. Also, health care per capita spending for obese individuals ranges between $1,429 and $2,741 higher each year than spending for individuals with a normal weight.
Emphasizing Prevention: “Let’s Move” Addresses Childhood Obesity
Most experts agree that the key to lowering health care spending on obesity is prevention. Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” program focuses on five pillars designed to change the way that a generation of Americans thinks about food.
- Giving kids a healthy start
- Empowering parents and caregivers
- Serving healthy foods in America’s schools
- Giving everyone access to healthy and affordable foods
- Motivating Americans to exercise more
Thanks to the “Let’s Move” initiative, Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act to improve nutrition in schools and to give more kids access to a healthy lunch. Large food retailers like Walmart have pledged to bring healthier foods to customers, and communities are encouraging kids to bike and walk to school as well as building additional playgrounds through “Let’s Move Cities and Towns.”
Regulating Choices: Mayor Bloomberg v. Super-Size Sodas
Mayor Mike Bloomberg views obesity as a major health crisis for New York City. Over half of New York City adults are overweight or obese, and obesity costs $4 billion dollars in health care costs for the city each year. According to Bloomberg, the increase in portion sizes of sugary beverages is the main reason for the American diet’s steep rise in calories. To combat the problem, Bloomberg tried to initiate a ban of all servings of soda over 16 ounces from both restaurants and vendor carts.
A State Supreme Court judge blocked Bloomberg’s soda ban, calling the law “arbitrary and capricious,” one day before the ban was to take effect in the city. Still, many restaurants have complied voluntarily with the ordinance. Earlier Bloomberg initiatives, like requiring Big Apple restaurants to display calorie counts for all of their dishes, have had nationwide effects. For example, McDonald’s has started to display calorie counts on all of its menus nationwide.
Can America Defeat Obesity?
Some experts suggest that increases in obesity have leveled off over the past few years in the U.S. However, the issue remains a major problem, especially among minorities and the poor. Lawmakers have a responsibility to fight obesity to reduce health care costs for all Americans. The initiatives may not always be popular, but they’re the right things to do.