I have written on this topic any number of times, warning that when government pays the health care bills, said payments gives it nearly infinite room to label just about any individual behavior as "costly" to the health care system and therefore fair game for micro-regulation.
If you happen to be the 1-in-3 Americans who is neither obese nor overweight (and, thus, considered at risk of becoming obese), you might well conclude that the habits of the remaining two-thirds of Americans are costing you, big time. U.S. life expectancies are expected to slide backward, after years of marching upward. (But that's their statistical problem: Yours is how to make them stop costing you all that extra money because they are presumably making poor choices in their food consumption.)
"Facing the serious consequences of an uncontrolled obesity epidemic, America's state and federal policy makers may need to consider interventions every bit as forceful as those that succeeded in cutting adult tobacco use by more than 50%," the Urban Institute report says. It took awhile -- almost 50 years from the first surgeon general's report on tobacco in 1964 -- to drive smoking down. But in many ways, the drumbeat of scientific evidence and the growing cultural stigma against obesity already are well underway -- as any parent who has tried to bring birthday cupcakes into her child's classroom certainly knows.
Key among the "interventions" the report weighs is that of imposing an excise or sales tax on fattening foods. That, says the report, could be expected to lower consumption of those foods. But it would also generate revenues that could be used to extend health insurance coverage to the uninsured and under-insured, and perhaps to fund campaigns intended to make healthy foods more widely available to, say, low-income Americans and to encourage exercise and healthy eating habits.
Please, please note the text in bold. They have made overeating a crime with a victim - people who are thin are victims of those who are overweight, and therefore can call on the government to take swift action to protect them. Eek! And the LA Times is clearly in love with the idea. Is it any wonder my chief concern about government health care is not the costs, but the threats to individual liberty?
For those of you comfortably thin who chose to ignore this as not your problem, consider this: If an overweight person is a threat to a thin person, via the health care charges he might burden taxpayers with, what about, say, a skier? I don't chose to participate in dangerous sports, so isn't a skier doing a crime against me by the same logic for taking a risk of a potentially expensive injury? How about a person whose hobby involves dangerous tools. If TJIC cuts his finger off on his band saw, isn't that costing me money in our new socialist regime? What about bike riding, or motorcycle riding, or rock climbing, or rugby? What about any parent that lets their kid play somewhere they could get hurt and cost us mone?
This is why government health care is so dangerous -- it takes what should be individual decisions with individual consequences and socializes the costs of our personal choices. Once the costs are socialized, won't control of the choices themselves follow?
Postscript: Again going into morbid mode here, obesity may increase costs for younger patients, but its higher early morbidity actually can reduce lifetime costs. Basically, morbidly obese people tend to die more often before they grow old enough to get expensive cancers and such. Several studies have shown lifetime costs for the obese to be lower than for other folks.
Which is not to say that obesity is good, so please do not misunderstand my point. I would work hard to help someone I loved who was morbidly overweight to get in better health. Obesity can be bad but its a crappy excuse to take another axe to our free society.