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Ending obesity in the U.S.: Government or personal responsibility?

Posted Jul 31 2009 9:58am

A slew of recent articles reported on a new study released by researchers at RTI International, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which states that “the annual healthcare cost of obesity in the U.S. has doubled in less than a decade and may be as high as $147 billion a year.” The study found “the prevalence of obesity rose 37 percent between 1998 and 2006, and medical costs climbed to about 9.1 percent of all U.S. medical costs,” further straining our precarious healthcare system.

What does $147 billion mean? In comparison, the American Cancer Society says it costs $93 billion a year to treat all types of cancer. Looking at those figures, Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said that “ ending obesity would save our healthcare system 50 percent more dollars than curing cancer.”

The Wall Street Journal followed that up with the CDC’s “recommendations to help communities prevent and combat obesity. They include discouraging the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, instituting smaller portion-size options in venues such as government facilities, and requiring physical education in schools.” The beverage industry, unsurprisingly, opposes the on-the table soda-tax proposals.

Eating healthier foods and exercising more are obvious solutions to the issue. However, how can we make people personally accountable for their health, particularly as we aim for reform in our healthcare system? According to Kevin Keane, a spokesman for the American Beverage Association, “It’s overreaching when government uses the tax code to tell people what they can eat or drink.” Is government involvement going too far?

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