by Frederick Jaccarino, MD
America’s leaders set national priorities, assign elected and appointed officials to solve specific problems, and work on solutions in order to secure the future of our nation. The current administration is working on dozens of important issues, and one more which is being spearheaded by the First Lady, Michelle Obama: childhood obesity.
The causes of the childhood obesity epidemic in America today are well known. Diets include “essential nutrients” like chips, tacos, pizzas, burgers, and a rare green item like mint ice cream or avocado dip. Add all these mostly empty calories to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, and the unsurprising result is obesity and an accelerated aging process in our youth, who often enter their twenties already seriously overweight.
What isn’t visible – but looms as the actual consequence of this trend – is the premature artery clogging, hypertension, and diabetes that is leading to an ever rising demand for medical treatments and will be a costly burden for society.
Just as when the government joined the medical establishment in the war on tobacco, so too the government has a big stake in the battle against childhood obesity. And, as with tobacco, the battle is being waged via information and education.
The first lady’s voice reaches beyond America’s shores. However, she will need the aid of other members of government, like Congress, to levy taxes and fines that will prod us to offer better nutrition for our children.
New York’s Mayor Bloomberg, for one, has taken aim at the obesity problem by making laws discouraging large portions, and other laws to inform customers how many calories are in that bacon-cheeseburger. Standards defining acceptable limits on fat or sugar content seem to be just what our National Institutes of Health scientists have been working on for years, and the taxes will be “virtuous” since they promote better health and primarily punish only those who choose to ignore the warnings of Michelle Obama and others.
Is it fair or democratic for our government to use fines and taxes to encourage one food choice over another? The answer is yes, it is fair because society as a whole absorbs the costs of caring for the ill and ailing. Statistically speaking, the overweight children (not unlike smokers) will use healthcare earlier and more often than their healthier counterparts.