U.S. Congress Struggles to Find Solution to Obesity and its Cost to the Economy
The United States Congress has to contend with the fact that Medicaid and Medicare costs have risen significantly in recent years. As they seek to reduce medical costs, they may be forced to evaluate the obesity epidemic facing the United States. Over 150 million American adults are classified as either overweight or obese. An article from Reuters in 2007 claimed that over 75% of American adults will be overweight by the year 2015.
[box type="important"]In the United States, 78 million adults and nearly 13 million children meet the criteria for obesity — That’s roughly 1/3 of the population. An additional 1/3 of adults are overweight but not obese according to the CDC. [/box]
The obesity epidemic is creating significant costs to the American economy. In 2008, medical bills associated with obesity reached $147 billion. That is a 100% increase over the course of just a decade. If the problem is not addressed, medical bills can reach $344 billion by the year 2018. These figures do not take into consideration the variety of chronic diseases that arise from obesity. The costs of other chronic illnesses amount to nearly $1.8 trillion each year. A significant amount of those costs likely arise directly or indirectly from obesity.
Other costs that can’t be quantified as easily include the loss of productivity and time workers have to take off from work. Therefore, the exact costs of obesity cannot be easily estimated. Nevertheless, they are clearly high enough to require Congress to consider different options as it tries to address the epidemic.
According to Laura Machina of The Hill, Congress may be coming to terms with the need to address obesity, even though they have been reluctant to take a public stance on it. Politicians know that speaking openly about obesity and encouraging citizens to change their lifestyles is going to come across in an insensitive manner which may destroy their careers. Therefore, they will have to take a different stance.
Addressing different government programs that encourage Americans to be overweight may seem like a better solution. However, Machina argues that these approaches are likely to be criticized as well.
Congress has only taken a few small steps to address the obesity problem facing Americans. After reading a report from Columbia stating that implementing a tax on soft drinks may reduce consumption and lower the risks of developing diabetes and heart disease, Congress has considered implementing such a tax.
Machina suggests that this approach may be insufficient and Congress may need to consider a different approach. Instead, she argues that their best course of action is to do away with the subsidies for crops that are used to develop highly over-processed foods.
[box type="note"]As the costs of obesity continue to escalate throughout the United States, many people are starting to worry that Congress’s role in fixing the problem may be limited. However, while they cannot dictate to people what they can and cannot eat, they may be able to implement new laws which would encourage a healthier society.[/box]