Obesity's Impact On The Economy

This is from a (mostly) good article from the opinion section of the New York Times. I was nodding my head in agreement for the first half of the article and was surprised to read just how impactful obesity is to the national economy:

The total impact of obesity and its related complications on the United States’ economic output has been estimated at between 4 and 8 percent of gross domestic product. Even on the lower end, that’s comparable to the 2018 defense budget ($643 billion) and Medicare ($588 billion).

(“The Toll of America’s Obesity,” 2018)

The reason for such high expenditures is the increase in entitlement spending to compensate:

The epidemic substantially increases federal entitlement spending for medical costs through Medicare, Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income, while the resulting lower worker productivity reduces tax revenues.

And unfortunately, that money has to come from either increased taxes or from other programs:

Simply put, the more the government must spend on health care and the more tax revenues it loses, the less there is for discretionary spending (such as education, highways, the environment and defense) and safety net services.

But where the article lost me was with the authors contradition in stating obesity is largely not the individual’s fault, it is largely genetic and then later saying a healty diet is key to reversing the trend.

And then they really lost me when their big recommendation is government intervention:

1. “[E]stablish a federal commission to coordinate obesity policy.” Already done. It’s called the FDA.
2. “[A]dequately fund obesity research…beyond the conventional focus on eating less and moving more.” I agree and would add ‘beyond cutting fats and lowering salt intake.’
3. “Impose a tax on processed foods, and use the proceeds to subsidize whole foods.” Firstly, dedicating the tax revenue from problem X to cause Y never happens cleanly/efficiently and secondly, take taxing cigarettes or even sugary drinks as illustrative.
4. “[P]rioritize the quality of the nutrition in the National School Lunch Program and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.” I agree with this for other reasons and one being that for too many kids, school is the primary source of food for the day and it should therefore be as healthy as possible.
5. “[B]an junk food advertising to young children.” One, possibly more effective solution along the same vein would be a government advertising initiative along the lines of Schoolhouse Rock!. I still remember several of those jingles.

Obesity and COVID-19

According to the CDC, over 30% of the hospitalizations related to COVID-19 were also related to obesity!

More than 900,000 adult COVID-19 hospitalizations occurred in the United States between the beginning of the pandemic and November 18, 2020. Models estimate that 271,800 (30.2%) of these hospitalizations were attributed to obesity.

(“Obesity, Race/Ethnicity, and COVID-19,” 2020)

And this study found similar results:

Obesity plays a profound role in risk for death from COVID-19, particularly in male patients and younger populations. Our capitated system with more equalized health care access may explain the absence of effect of racial/ethnic and socioeconomic disparities on death. Our data highlight the leading role of severe obesity over correlated risk factors, providing a target for early intervention.

(Tartof et al., 2020)
1. The Toll of America’s Obesity. (2018). In New York Times, Opinion. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/09/opinion/cost-diabetes-obesity-budget.html
2. Obesity, Race/Ethnicity, and COVID-19. (2020). In Centers For Disease Control And Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/obesity-and-covid-19.html
3. Tartof, S. Y., Qian, L., Hong, V., Wei, R., Nadjafi, R. F., Fischer, H., Li, Z., Shaw, S. F., Caparosa, S. L., Nau, C. L., & others. (2020). Obesity and mortality among patients diagnosed with COVID-19: results from an integrated health care organization. Annals of Internal Medicine, 173(10), 773–781.