Surprising Agreement On The Connection Between Obesity and Healthcare Costs


The common enemy. Image via Foodgeekery

Michael Pollan writes in the New York Times about the connection between the American diet and the cost of health care; Surprisingly, conservative writers like Marie-Josée Kravis are saying much the same thing, for different reasons. Pollan writes:

No one disputes that the $2.3 trillion we devote to the health care industry is often spent unwisely, but the fact that the United States spends twice as much per person as most European countries on health care can be substantially explained, as a study released last month says, by our being fatter.

He suggests that reform of our food system is as important as that of the health system.

Cheap food is going to be popular as long as the social and environmental costs of that food are charged to the future. There's lots of money to be made selling fast food and then treating the diseases that fast food causes.

Pollan uses the obesity crisis to challenge the food system; conservative writers are using it to challenge the President's health care proposals.

On the conservative website New Majority, David Gratzer claims that citizens in countries that have socialized medicine don't live longer because they have better health care; they live longer because unlike Americans, they are not obese, they know how to drive and they don't carry guns. He quotes the the Hudson Institute's Marie-Josee Kravis, writing in Forbes:

Take road fatalities: The U.S. holds the unenviable record of one of the highest rates in the developed world. Its road mortality rate is 15 per 100,000 people compared with 6.6 in Japan, partly because we drive more. Would universal health care shorten commutes or stop speeding? Would driver-distracting cell phones be shelved and more seat belts worn if there were universal health insurance? Now to the homicide rate, ten times as high in the U.S. as in the U.K. Will insurance cards replace guns? Can anyone credibly argue that health care reform will lower the homicide rate?

She then points out the issue of obesity:

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development reports that 32.2% of Americans are obese. The OECD average is 14.6%, with Japan at 3%, France 9.5%, Germany 13.6%, Canada 18% and Australia 21.7%. Obesity isn't caused by the health care system, but it does reduce life expectancy. It's a lifestyle choice whose expenses are borne by everyone. Costs attributable to obesity account for almost 10% of health care spending in the U.S. In Canada the corresponding figure is from 2% to 3.5%.

Obese Americans spend an average of 36% more for health services and 77% more for medications than people of normal weight. They are 20 times as likely to develop diabetes, 2.5 times as prone to heart disease and twice as vulnerable to cancer, hypertension and asthma. Will health care reform cut portion sizes?

Michael Pollan and Marie-Josée Kravis agree: Our lifestyles and our diet are killing us. And I think one can infer from Gratzer and Kravis that perhaps we need fewer and slower cars, better diets and a massive overhaul of our food system.

TreeHugger posts inspired by Marie-Josée Kravis:
Driving Greener Every Day
55 MPH: It's time to bring it back.
Obesity is Causing Higher Health Costs, So Get Skinny by Going Green
What Makes You Fat?
Quote Of The Day: "put down those handguns and pick up those ...
Cyclist Shot For Riding with Child In Busy Street

Tags: Health Care | Michael Pollan