Monday, January 23, 2006

Of Note: The Economics of Obesity

My friend Mike Rosenwald just published a very creepy story called Why America Has to be Fat, about the economics of obesity:

"I am fat," he writes. "Sixty pounds too hefty, in my doctor's opinion. Probably 80 pounds, in my fiancee's view. Being fat makes me a lot of things -- a top contender for type II diabetes, for instance, or a heart attack, or stroke, maybe even a replacement knee or hip. My girth also puts me in familiar company, with about two-thirds of the U.S. population now considered overweight. But in many ways, my being fat also makes me pretty good for the economy."

His story makes the case that the boom in the US economy following the Depression helped cause our current obesity epidemic, and that obesity now actually helps fuel our economy:

"The obesity problem is really a side effect of things that are good for the economy," said Tomas J. Philipson, an economics professor who studies obesity at the University of Chicago, a city recently named the fattest in America. "But we would rather take improvements in technology and agriculture than go back to the way we lived in the 1950s when everyone was thin. Nobody wants to sweat at work for 10 hours a day and be poor. Yes, you're obese, but you have a life that is much more comfortable."

[To which I say, As if those are the only two options: sweat at work and be thin but poor, or have a comfortable work life and be fat?! Please!]

"For many corporations, and even for physicians, Americans' obesity has also fattened the bottom line. William L. Weis, a management professor at Seattle University, says revenue from the "obesity industries" will likely top $315 billion this year, and perhaps far more. That includes $133.7 billion for fast-food restaurants, $124.7 billion for medical treatments related to obesity, and $1.8 billion just for diet books -- all told, nearly 3 percent of the overall U.S. economy."

Never mind the gazillions of dollars obesity-related illnesses cost in health care, disability payments and diminished workforces. People are cashing in on obesity, and those people certainly aren't obese ...

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Anonymous Matt Hutson said...

Rosenwald's WashPo article aligns nicely with Steven Shapin's piece in the Jan 16 New Yorker, "Eat and Run: Why we're so fat." Shapin sez: "the key to the spread of obesity in America is technology-produced abundance... The Land of Cockaigne is a nice place to visit; the trouble is that we're stuck living there." (And we don't even have snozzberry wallpaper!)

2:06 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

Its a crazy article, if what is good for the economy is bad for people, or better yet, something that is bad for people is being used as an example to show how great our economy is, something must be wrong with either the economy, the way we measure what's 'good' for an economy, or both.

3:21 PM  

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