Think about this next time you sink your teeth into some deliciously fattening Mickey D’s: Medical school researchers at Harvard University estimate that artificial trans fats cause up to 228,000 heart attacks annually in the United States.
Although you may not notice it living in Isla Vista, where there are more gym rats than actual rodents, America is quickly becoming the not-so-glorious nation of “Get Fat, Die Young.”
The United States spends more money per person on its health care than any country in the world at $7,538 per person per year, and yet, according to the CIA World Factbook, the United States ranks 50th in the world in life expectancy at birth. Yeah, 50th. That’s behind not only the United Kingdom, Canada and Spain, but also Bosnia and Herzegovina, Puerto Rico, Bermuda and the Isle of Man.
Not surprisingly, we’re also the most obese country in the world at 34 percent, and obesity has just recently beaten out long-time champ tobacco as the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. According to Health Affairs, increasing obesity in the United States accounts for 27 percent of the total rise in health care costs between 1987 and 2001. As of 2010, $147 billion per year is spent on obesity-related health care costs.
But that’s not the only damaging effect this is having on our economy. Obesity-related job absenteeism (calling in “fat” from work?) costs the economy an estimated $4.3 billion annually, and lower worker productivity associated with obesity costs $506 per obese worker per year.
And there is Ronald McDonald, helping out every step of the way as nearly one-third of U.S. children ages four to 19 eat fast food on a daily basis. All this fast food packs on about six extra pounds per child per year and increases the risk of obesity, according to a study of 6,212 children published in Pediatrics. It appears that good ol’ Ron-Ron’s been stepping up his game, as the findings also suggest that fast food consumption has increased fivefold among children since 1970.
This, of course, is not the first time you’ve heard about the “obesity epidemic” in America. However, we don’t hear as often about its causes or discussions about how we can solve the problem. We as a society need to create real incentives for people to eat healthier — incentives that cause actual social change, since Elmo’s healthy talks to toddlers about how yummy carrot sticks are just aren’t cutting it.
A big part of the problem is that fast food has become too cheap. For a poor family with very little time and money, the choice to eat fast food can become a purely economic one. Furthermore, many poor people don’t even have the choice of healthier food options. Drive through any poor part of any city in America and chances are you’ll find every type of fast food out there before you lay your eyes on an Albertsons or Vons.
Even if you are heartless and rich and don’t care for the well-being of the poor, consider this: who pays for the poor’s health insurance? That’s right, YOU do! And even if you are against universal health care, in America, a person having an obesity-related heart attack is going to be taken to the hospital whether they have medical insurance or not. If the person is too poor to pay, the taxpayers foot the bill, since the doctors will inevitably need to get paid. We all have a vested interest in creating a more healthy society because, if we don’t, everybody is going to suffer the economic consequences.
Some steps have been taken — California was the first state to ban the use of trans fats from restaurants, and the new national health care law will require all food chains to display calorie counts on their menus. Although these are good starts, more drastic steps must be taken.
A radical idea that Hungary is using to control their own obesity problem is the so-called “fat tax,” which taxes foods according to fat content. The reasoning is that if your choice is producing higher costs for society in terms of higher health care costs, you should have to help pay. The profits from the tax can then be used to help encourage healthier food choices.
America should watch closely to see if Hungary’s fat tax helps lower obesity rates in the country because we need to keep every option on the table if we are going to save ourselves from our own fat rolls.
Daily Nexus columnist Riley Schenck takes the “happy” out of “Happy Meal” and hits you with the hard facts.