Sunday, February 26, 2006


The Obesity Wars

I was reading a news article about the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs and their drawing up of 'battle lines' against obesity. I always love these sort of new programs that target social bads in an effort to better then world, especially when using someone else's money. Just read the lines spewed from the mouth of VA Secretary Jim Nicholson:

"I feel we have a responsibility to better educate our veterans."

Gotta love these sort of folks. How do they sleep at night, when we have this obesity epidemic? I know I can't....

Commentary on our epidemic: Center for Disease Control, Halting the Obesity Epidemic, Harvard on the Worldwide Obesity Epidemic

My response is two-fold:

First, this War-on-Obesity seems to be, at least in part, a symptom of the creeping welfare state. If I'm paying for the healthcare of the obese, I have an incentive to make them my business.

The other part of this movement's genesis seems to come directly from a central planning mentality. Elitist planners have an ideal population in mind; everyone must be 5'6" and weight 164 lbs. They must commute to work on foot, bicycle or segue and they cannot smoke, watch football or drink beer.

I think the second part is creepier, but the first part more dangerous. The Welfare State gives a reason to ordinary, non-Big-Brother Americans to care about everyone else's business: things they would not ordinarily care about. Like the nutrition, bathing habits and vices of their neighbors. It uses incentives to make all Americans into Central Planners.

Your posts are always great for conversation. :)


As are your posts. :-D

But Personally, I don’t think we’ve started spiraling down that road to serfdom just yet. A country run by “elitist planners” demanding we all be identically fit cogs would be a very scary place, but I don’t think that’s the reality in the US of A.

This program is exclusively for veterans receiving health care from the VA. The health care they receive is paid for by the tax payers as part of their compensation for serving in the military. This sounds less like a welfare check and more like contractually obligated payment for services rendered to me.

Now since we are paying for it, like you pointed out, we are more interested in verteran’s health than we would be otherwise. But I find that natural, not unnerving. For example, I am also more interested in the personal habits of active members of the military (or powerful politicians) than I would be otherwise, precisely because I am “paying” for the services they are providing.

Now you may disagree with these arrangements. I know I can think of lots objections (though I don’t believe them all). After all, the contract between the individual soilder and the military is voluntary, but taxpayers are “forced” to honor the agreement through taxation. So maybe I am being misleading by describing the relationship as a payment-of-services.

But this argument is pretty watered down and could be made against any government activity funded by taxation. No Orwellian-dystopia allusions required. :P
Indeed Dallas. Because of an increase in government interaction with the health care market, we no longer pay for our own risky behavior and the consequences there of. This particular example was for Veterans and so it excuses the program to an extent -- by attempts to minimize the quantity of coerced dollars. However, this war on obesity seems prevalent almost everywhere -- in schools with sodas and snack machines, at the fast food joints, in the FDA, and in other proposed laws and paternalistic agenda. It is true that we are not yet at that Orwellian crossroad, but it takes little to bring us the rest of that way.
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