A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine (as reported on CNN) tells us that, even though the reduced rates of smoking in this country should have increased our overall life expectancy, the rates of overweight and obesity have more than wiped out any gains; Americans, on average, will die about 1 year earlier than they would have if we were all normal weight. Now, of course we’re not all going to be of “normal weight,” but that is a significant decrease in life expectancy for a completely preventable epidemic.
And it gets worse! Another recent study tells us that “obesity is actually the second-largest carcinogen in the United States. Only tobacco causes more cancer than obesity…”
Despite this, policy makers have been slow to implement the kinds of regulations that have been instrumental in curbing smoking. One small proposal including in the major bills in play, which we previously discussed, would require fast-food outlets and other chain restaurants to post calorie information on their menus and other product displays – unfortunately by pre-empting stronger, local regulations, and in exchange for exempting the restaurant industry from lawsuits or further regulation.
Cigarette taxes and restrictions on marketing have been instrumental in preventing young folks from starting to smoke. Yet, a small tax on a beverage with no nutritional value – soda – never made it into health care reform because (according to industry lobbyists) a tax would not change consumer behavior. Lobbyists also claim the tax could disproportionately affect low-income populations. Question: If a soda tax wouldn’t change consumer behavior, it also couldn’t really have that great of an economic effect on low-income folks, or they’d stop buying soda, right? Am I missing something?
This seems so small - are we missing a huge opportunity to get prevention into health reform? Or - as Michael Pollan suggests - once insurers can no longer deny people coverage for pre-existing conditions, will prevention suddenly rise to the top of the agenda?
Image courtesy of Rutgers Health Law Society