NPR recently aired an obesity debate questioning whether the government should play a role in controlling the weight of American citizens. Four industry experts argued their beliefs over the course of 45 minutes and the audience weighed in at the debate’s conclusion – ultimately deciding that obesity is not the government’s business.
Regardless of the debate’s outcome however, some excellent points were made throughout the evening. Outspoken Fox News host, John Stossel, insinuated that the government is becoming too invasive in individual lives. He boldly announced that when the government starts planning our meals, it means we are headed towards a totalitarian regime where everything falls under the purview of the state. Extreme? Yes. Thought-provoking? Certainly.
Stossel, alongside Paul Campos, argued that the government can’t make us thinner. Numerous programs designed to reduce obesity have failed thus far. Americans continue to gain weight despite initiatives structured to boost health, increase activity, and make healthy foods more abundant. They raised the questions: why did we see a big surge in weight gain in the 1980’s and 90’s? Are people really more sedentary than 40 years ago? Despite what many people think, this data does not exist. Records don’t go back far enough to compare "time spent sitting" today versus "time spent sitting" in 1960. Their conclusion: Rather than spending billions of dollars on weight reduction, we should focus on harm reduction and reduce the stigmatization and prejudice directed at overweight Americans.
The opposing side countered these arguments. Pamela Peeke, WebMD’s chief lifestyle correspondent, declared that our government has to be involved in the national obesity epidemic – but government alone cannot solve the problem. Dr. Peeke suggested the public and private sectors create partnerships to address the crisis from all angles. Supporting her argument, team member David Satcher directly addressed the link between obesity and Type Two diabetes and insisted the consequences of obesity are too great for the government not to be involved. They concluded that the government should promote research, utilize social media to educate consumers, and bump up physical fitness in schools to teach healthy habits and cut down on healthcare costs in the coming years.
As a wellness company, we’ve seen firsthand the adverse effects of overweight and obesity on personal well-being and the fiscal health of organizations. Obesity is the government’s business because protecting the welfare of the people is the government’s business. We tax cigarettes. Drugs are highly regulated (or illegal). So why aren’t sugar-laden sodas - or the companies that manufacture them - subject to the same fees and restrictions?
Obesity-related conditions kill more people annually than any other disease. We need the government’s help to maximize health, minimize harm, and reduce healthcare costs. We can’t fight this fight alone.