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State's obese workers face bigger bills

Promotional photo from Scale Back Alabama

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: Dieting and watching what you eat can be a challenge. There's nothing more boring than carrots for a snack when what you'd really like is a Snickers bar or something. So the state of Alabama's offering a stick to go with that carrot. A monthly chunk added to your health insurance bill if you don't at least try to trim down. From WBHM in Birmingham, Alabama, Tanya Ott has the story.


Tanya Ott: Here's a number for you: Obesity costs the U.S. health care system $93 billion a year. But honestly, the number I wanted to know when I first heard about this policy was my body mass index. So I went to the Web.

My height is 5-foot, 2 inches. And my weight is 164 pounds. We hit "compute BMI" and the answer's 30.

Under the new plan, state employees in Alabama who have a BMI of more than 34 and don't address their problems with cholestoral or blood pressure, will have to pay $25 more a month for health insurance.

ALAN MONHEIT: This is not really good public policy.

Alan Monheit is a health economist at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. He says several things determine someone's predisposition to being overweight -- from how far they commute to genetics. But Eric Finkelstein, author of "The Fattening of America: How the Economy Makes Us Fat," thinks genetics are overblown. He says for many people, the issue is behavior.

Eric Finkelstein: I think the question that people need to ask is, Are we better off with a strategy that may discriminate against some subset of individuals but that, on net, may substantially improve the health and the financial health of the country. And I think that's really what this law boils down to.

Finkelstein says it's no different than private health insurance where rates are based on risk. Alabama will spend more than $1.5 million on medical screenings and health education the first year of the program.

I'm Tanya Ott for Marketplace.

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The line about cholesterol and blood pressure suggests to me that only people with at risk numbers will pay the premium. So Alabama's large population of bodybuilders and professional football players should be able to breathe a bit easier. Let's be honest true marathoners and other endurance atheletes are NOT testing out above 34 in BMI.

What about smokers....I'm sure Alabama is also raising the premiums on smokers right? Or do they die so quickly they get a discount? What about obese smokers...should they pay $50 a month extra? Pure non-sense!

It's EXTREMELY annoying to have such a hard time buying something that is NOT organic without corn syrup. I don't want it in my food. It's there because of how strong corn farming agribusiness is in this country, it's not in food elsewhere, which is why WE have the obesity problem HERE. Cultures that are beginning to eat like we do are also getting the same problems. Why do I have to pay more just to have a normal amount of calories in my food?

Don't tell me that it's all on the individual when the grocery situation is as bad as it is. If you don't believe me, just TRY on your next trip to the grocery store, NOT to bring home anything with corn syrup. Just try. PLAIN sugar allowed, organic not. See what you get.

I don't know if BMI is the best way to go. Even though I work out regularly my weight fluctuates a bit and my BMI sometimes falls into the "overweight" category. It is on the cusp of nomral and overweight. I think it is because I'm short, but muscular. But seeing that I recently ran a 1/2 marathon and run, hike, and kayak regularly, I know I'm not out of shape. My doctor agrees. Really, I have little concern that I'll ever slip into the "obese" numbers on the BMI scale. I'm writing this, though, to point out that using such a scale as the only measurment of a person's health may be a mistake. Thanks!

I don't know if BMI is the best way to go. Even though I work out regularly my weight fluctuates a bit and my BMI sometimes falls into the "overweight" category. It is on the cusp of nomral and overweight. I think it is because I'm short, but muscular. But seeing that I recently ran a 1/2 marathon and run, hike, and kayak regularly, I know I'm not out of shape. My doctor agrees. Really, I have little concern that I'll ever slip into the "obese" numbers on the BMI scale. I'm writing this, though, to point out that using such a scale as the only measurment of a person's health may be a mistake. Thanks!

I don't know if BMI is the best way to go. Even though I work out regularly my weight fluctuates a bit and my BMI sometimes falls into the "overweight" category. It is on the cusp of nomral and overweight. I think it is because I'm short, but muscular. But seeing that I recently ran a 1/2 marathon and run, hike, and kayak regularly, I know I'm not out of shape. My doctor agrees. Really, I have little concern that I'll ever slip into the "obese" numbers on the BMI scale. I'm writing this, though, to point out that using such a scale as the only measurment of a person's health may be a mistake. Thanks!

This is an excellent idea!!
But it's way too limited, such rules should apply for everybody, in every state!
If you cause more costs - you pay more! Simple.
I am so sick of the obese blaming everything and everybody but themselves.
I am so, so sick of having to pay for people who cannot control themselves.

-Coolio

We should not blame the food industry and point the finger at them for America obesity problem. It starts with us, we need to learn self control and understand the word "moderation".

If used solely as a marker for "obesity/overweight", the BMI can be misleading. I think it should be used as a starting point. I am tired of hearing people use genetics or medication usage as an excuse for being drastically overweight. I think a lot has to do with what - and how much - people eat. The food industry's job is to make money. The public's job is to monitor what they eat.

Will Alabama also ban transfat and legistate that resturants list calories on menus? This red state is now a nanny state, but it's still a safe haven for food industry lobbyist

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