7/24/2004

The Economics of Obesity

Dr. T’s….. oh wait, I guess I should say Dr Tufte’s blog website (since the other Dr.T site is not Dr. Tufte) has a new blogger link called Common Knowledge I thought I would check it out. I found an article on The Economics of Obesityinteresting. I would like to add some information missing from Common Knowledge so that it will be common knowledge to the class. In April 2002 the IRS began allowing write off’s for obesity treatments. That’s right a tax break for being overweight.
This month the flood gates were finally fully opened when an article in the New York Times Medicare policy might spur obesity research stated
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson announced Thursday that Medicare was abandoning a long-held policy that said obesity was not a disease, opening the way for the government to pay for a whole range of possible treatments, from surgery and diets to psychotherapy.
The article also states, “With weight-loss surgery costing $30,000 to $40,000 if there are no complications, the cost to Medicare of obesity treatments could be astronomical”, and concludes with Medicare is convening an advisory committee this fall “to help us think through these issues”.
Maybe the government should have thought through the issues first before making the announcement and what it will end up costing the normal weight people.
Where’s the tax breaks for being healthy?

13 comments:

C-Dizzle said...

I personally think that being overweight is an illness to a certain extent. (To each his or her own I guess.) Some overweight problems are caused by literal chemical problems in the body while others are cases of people not taking good care of their bodies. This isn't the complete issue though.

I definitely have some concerns about obesity being considered an illness because as Rolf alluded to, where's the money to care from this illness coming from? I sure don't want it coming from my pocket.

Further more, if the money is eventually going to come from my pocket whether
I like it or not, perhaps there should be counter policies that reward those who do take good care of themselves.

Ned said...

Take a plane over to the middle east. I don't think you'll find any obese people. Sure a lot of them probably don't get the kind of diet we'd expect, so it's not the best example, but humans aren't naturally obese. I think a large part of the blame falls on our economy of fast foods. Massive diet plans and health plans have only really exploded in the last 20 years, after we've seen what eating unhealthy does to us. We're meant to eat healthy foods and exercise every day. I'm guilty as everyone else, having eaten very little in the way of worthwhile food in the last week or two. Thats the problem, its easier not to. Restaurants have recenlty tried to start selling good food. Just abou every restaurant sells salads now, even the pizza chains. But unless there's a bigger change in the economy, we'll have the same problems. Unhealthy people who need lots of every one elses money to lengthen their lives.

micahnay said...

I agree with the previous comments in that most people are not obese because they have a disease, but there are a lot of people out there that can’t do anything about their weight. I have a family member that is a thirteen-year victim of Multiple Sclerosis, which has tampered with her Thyroid, which messed up her metabolism. She used to be about one hundred twenty pounds, but within a couple years, she was at about three hundred and fifty pounds. The reason why people in other countries aren’t as overweight as us is because they don’t have the food or financial means to do so. In other cases, their diet consists of fish, rice, and other foods that are very low in fat and calories. I think that the biggest problem we have here in the United States is that it isn’t just easier to go to a fast food restaurant; it is also cheaper to eat there too. Also, have you priced the food that makes a healthy diet as compared to the food that isn’t as healthy? Producers are jacking up the prices on healthy foods so that it is very hard to eat right.

Lizzie said...

I have an idea…why not make the fast food chains foot the medical bills. Or at least put down some ground rules, i.e. if you eat at a fast food restaurant more than five times a week then you don’t qualify as an obese person due to genetics or disease. I guess my point is that gov’t help is just that…help. It isn’t meant to be an excuse to be lazy and expect someone else to bail you out. In order for society to function everybody must do their part, that means putting into the pot as well as taking out when necessary.

Senator Miller said...

Are you kiddin me?! A tax write off for being overweight? I've never seen a fat person that runs 8 miles a day. Why don't they? Is it a physical impossiblity for them? Probably not, they just choose not to. The fact of the matter is that if fat people want to lose weight, they can exercise like everyone else, and if they don't want to, they can pay for their own treatments. Sure, diet is a big part of it, but exercise is too. There will be exceptions for those with illnesses causing obesity, and those that actually can't physically control their weight. But, for the most part this seems to be just another sign of our culture leaning toward a more liberal way of thinking. Government sponsored obesity is definitely not a policy I'd ever support. The perverse incentives that this policy can cause will not in anyway help our economy to grow.

metromut said...

That is just rediculous to use your weight as being a tax write off. If a person can't help being overweight then I can understand, but for the most part people are just too lazy or don't care to keep in shape. I like what one of the previous comments said about having restrictions put on like no more than 3 (or however many it was) fast food meals a week. I do agree that overweight people need help but I sure don't want to help them because they got themselves in this mess so they should get themselves out.

Kid said...

I am in total disagreement with the idea that people who are over weight should get help from the Government. Obesity is a problem in our country that is for sure, but to punish those that try hard to eat right and exercise is wrong. To have us pay for others lack of control to eat and desire to exercise is absurd.

It seems to be a growing trend in our country to help those that can’t help them selves. That means those who can’t help eating fat, greasy, food everyday get help from the Government. The money spent on helping overweight people over come their eating habits could be used in better ways. It could fund research for multiple sclerosis (MS), Lou Gerhigs disease and the list can go on and on. That would beneficial to society!

Dr. Tufte said...

Spelling problems in Ned's and Kid's posts.

This is a good discussion, but it is verging on microeconomics.

Here is some food for thought (no pun intended).

1) What if you're fat because you were raised by fat people with poor eating and exercise habits? Is that something you should have to pay for?
2) Lizzie's idea amounts to a "sin tax". We already have those on cigarettes and liquor. Should we have them on food too?
3) WRT Kid's comment, I think the point is well taken. But, maintaining that sort of position in alternative circumstances is hard. In 1991 there was a big stink in SLC because they wanted to limit assessments for per child school taxes to two kids per family. If you had more than two, you got off cheaply. There were very similar arguments about self-control and discipline being made about that issue too.

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Lily said...

Dr. Tufte asked a question regarding the idea of a "sin tax" in an earlier comment. The question was should this "sin tax" be applied to the food we eat. I believe wholeheartedly the answer is no. Although people may be genetically predisposed for obesity, there is no empirical evidence suggesting they are addicted to food. People love Big Macs, but McDonalds should not be taxed further because the Big Mac does not contain any addictive substances that may be found in alcohol or tobacco products. The Big Mac is merely consumed more or not exercised off by obese people. There is a difference between an addiction and a bad habit.

Dr. Tufte said...

Agreed.