That’s why I’ve found myself coming down on the opposite side of other libertarians on obesity-related issues. Earlier this year, I wrote a defense of the proposed soda tax, and I got some interesting feedback: largely positive from my liberal friends, and largely negative from my Republican friends. Frankly, I'm rather surprised that this issue is so partisan, and surprised that I stand alone on the so-called "liberal" side of it.
Sure, childhood obesity is a pet project of Michelle Obama's, but haven't first ladies always championed causes that are supposedly non-controversial? I would've thought that ending excessive American obesity was a no-lose public health project everyone could agree with. As movements to change and monitor the food provided in public schools are growing, I wanted another chance to explain why I, usually a loyal libertarian, really support these efforts.
In my soda tax article, I wrote about how obesity causes a number of public health externalities. Obese people are increasingly more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, high cholesterol, etc, etc, etc. I understand that the libertarian point of view is that everyone has the freedom to choose what they eat and the burden to privately suffer the consequences of that choice. But this argument fails because obesity ends up burdening all of us – the non-obese taxpayers – because we are on the hook to subsidize these medical costs. Obesity is more prevalent among the welfare-eligible than the privately-insured, so their hospital costs and prescription costs are largely covered by – you guessed it – tax payers.
|Buzz, your girlfriend, woof!|
So, if we already have the forum of public schools, why not use them as an opportunity to educate students about making healthy food choices to lower health care costs to all of us in the long run? Come on, Republicans, this is a better use of public funds than paying striking teachers, right? Why not stock public school cafeterias with healthy food, remove sodas from vending machines (hell, remove vending machines), and educate about fat and calories? I feel the same way about public school sex education: use our pre-existing public funds already allocated to public schools to teach kids about safe sex. We don’t have to pay for their abortions, we don’t even have to buy their condoms. But we can teach them why using one prevents the other and ultimately save society as a whole from absorbing the costs of teen parents and underprivileged children.
I know the libertarian counter-argument is “it’s not my job to keep your kids skinny and unpregnant.” But, as long as we live in a system that imposes taxes on all of us to pay for the fatties and the kiddies, that argument has to fail. Certainly, the big, long-term picture for libertarians is overhauling the entire welfare benefits system. But the smaller, more immediate picture is legislating in a way that reduces the burdens on taxpayers in the existing system! Can't we put aside the principle of the issue for the reality of it: if we change the way children think about food, and more importantly, change what they eat, it will save all us taxpayers the cost of supporting them later. And what’s more fundamentally libertarian than keeping your own money?
Follow Up (because it's my blog and I'm allowed to): On August 26, 2011, a new study gave these numbers: by 2030, it's predicted that the U.S. obesity rate will rise from 32 percent in 2008 to about 50 percent for men, and from 35 percent to between 45 percent and 52 percent for women. That means if we keep growing at the current rate, over HALF of Americans will be clinically obese in less than 20 years! What this means money-wise:
"In the United States, the cost of treating obesity-related diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke, would increase $66 billion per year by 2030, and represent a 2.6 percent increase in overall health spending. Spending on obesity problems alone will increase 13 percent to 16 percent per year if U.S. trends continue."The report noted that a 1 percent population-wide decrease in body-mass index (just 1.9 pounds for an average 198-pound adult) would prevent more than 2 million cases of diabetes, roughly 1.5 million cases of heart disease and stroke, and 73,000 to 127,000 cancer cases in the United States.
So chew on that. And then please spit it out.