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Friday, July 08, 2005

Krugman's Skinny On Obesity

The NYT economist Paul Krugman in "Free to Choose Obesity?" tackles obesity and its harmful societal effects in today's column. He posits that government should take an active role in making us trimmer and, thus, healthier. He argues there is no choice in what or how much one eats and, much like the success of government intervention into public health like constructing sewers and anti-smoking campaigns, the government should "do something".

Certainly I am for sewer systems and I recognize the reduced number of smokers due to education but Krugman's faith in government intervention is scary to me. I like having the right to choose what I eat. According to Krugman:

It is more important, however, to emphasize that there are situations in which "free to choose" is all wrong - and that this is one of them.

I agree that choosing to rob, steal or murder is wrong and society has developed laws prohibiting and punishing these things over many millennia. I would prohibit late-term abortions, supported by Krugman as a matter of choice, due to the harm done to the unborn.

I agree with Krugman that childhood obesity is a big problem today. Overall the obese have a higher incidence of many health problems not seen as often in "normal" people.

Reports Michael Fumento:

For all nine of the physical conditions in 2002, “overweight” persons fared WORSE than “normal” ones. They were almost three times likelier to have type 2 diabetes and well over twice as likely to have high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

But the obese suffer far more. They were more than twice as likely to suffer
arthritis, asthma, heart disease, and upper gastrointestinal problems compared to “normal” persons. They were more than six times likelier to suffer diabetes and more than four times likelier to have hypertension.

But education on scientific issues is a more effective (and I do not mean cluttering it up with ideological garbage) kind of "intervention" that the Krugmans of the world generally intend. Our public schools have our children for 8 hours each day. Can't they skip a few fad topics and give children the skinny on foods? Today gym class grades have nothing to do with physical prowess. For the sake of children's self-esteem, testing and grading in gym class amounts to knowing how many outs there are per inning versus being able to throw a runner out at home plate. If your chubby kid knows how many feet there are in 2 miles, he aces gym. The kid who can actually run 2 miles may get a bad grade.

Still Krugman wants us to get over our prejudice against government. He writes:

In today's America, proposals to do something about rising obesity rates must contend with a public predisposed to believe that the market is always right and that the government always screws things up.

I guess Krugman missed the 4th of July excitement over the past weekend. A reasoned skepticism towards government has been an American attitude since our founding. Krugman professes his own skepticism of government regarding a report from the Department of Agriculture that championed choice over activism. He criticizes it for failing to provide examples of the reports claim of potential "unintended consequences" of a government obesity policy.

I am heartened that a government agency recognizes there may be unintended consequences to an action. I wish the government did more of that in the past. Of course, Krugman offers no solutions to this problem other than "let's do something about it". Thanks for the advice.

1 Comments:

At 3:22 AM, Anonymous Blue Cross of California said...

Krugman proves a great point on how obesity affects health insurance premiums.

 

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