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Government policy addressing obesity

In a previous blog, "We are all overeating", I discussed a recent report released by the CDC which outlined the vast increase in food portion sizes in the U.S. since the 1950s. In this post I would like explore a little further some of the implications this has on public health and ways in which government policy can try to impact this trend.

As I had previously mentioned, the vast increase in food consumption over the years is likely to have contributed to the rise in the prevalence of obesity, having a direct impact on healthcare costs and quality of life. Accordingly, there will be serious ramifications to both public and private healthcare systems and the ability of people to afford medical care in the future. It is becoming increasingly clear that the current healthcare cost trajectory is unsustainable for the U.S. and preventing obesity may be an effective way in which costs can be brought down.

Policy changes by the government may be helpful (and in its best interest) since they are a large financier of healthcare. Such policies may include removing taxes from gym memberships or allowing parents to deduct the costs of enrolling children into sports teams from their taxes. The latter policy is one which has been taken up fairly recently in Canada. The premise behind such policies are clear: it is counter-intuitive to increase the cost of activities which would decrease healthcare usage and subsequently lower healthcare expenditure.

Policies to reduce obesity have also been discussed and implemented in various other places around the world. Just this year France implemented a tax on soft-drinks, for example, in an effort to sway people from over-consuming these products. Likewise there has been a push in a number of areas in the U.S. to implement such taxes as well. Whether such policies will make a meaningful impact is something that will have to be assessed in due time, but it is my view that it is better to try something rather than letting status quo continue.

As always, please feel free to share your thoughts below.

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