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A health-care solution: Get in shape!

Marketplace Staff Nov 7, 2007

A health-care solution: Get in shape!

Marketplace Staff Nov 7, 2007


KAI RYSSDAL: There’s a report in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association about obesity. Apparently, it’s more dangerous to the elderly than previously understood.

And today at a meeting of the American Public Health Association, researchers said more kids are taking medicines originally made for adults — specifically, to treat diseases caused by eating too much and exercising too little.

Commentator David Frum says, for the sake of our health care system, it’s time for us all to get on the treadmill.

David Frum: I am a small government guy. I disapprove of nanny-stating. But America’s newest public health problem is rapidly turning into a public finance nightmare.

Unlike smoking and failure to wear a seat belt, obesity does not greatly shorten life. Instead, obesity exposes the obese to chronic illness. From depression to workplace injury, obesity and excessive weight are implicated in a startling range of costly health problems.

The Centers for Disease Control estimate that more than one health dollar in 10 is spent to counter the effects of obesity. And since the federal government is the largest single buyer of health care, the burden of overweight is squashing the taxpayer.

And this is likely to get worse, not only as the baby boomers age, but because younger generations are proving even more susceptible. Today’s adolescents are three times more likely to be overweight than in 1980.

Some of the necessary solutions involve changes at the most local level. Schools should ban soft drink machines, as many already do. Recess and phys ed, often eliminated from school timetables, should be enhanced.

Zoning policies often inadvertently make driving more necessary. A simple unconsidered decision today — allowing Segways to use sidewalks — may have serious consequences tomorrow.

Above all, there is a job of education to be done. One important recent survey found that having overweight friends increases one’s own chances of gaining weight. Apparently, being surrounded by overweight people alters our assumptions about what is and what is not a healthy weight. Ominously, America’s weight expectations are altering in unhealthy ways.

But hey, here’s an idea: One of the 2008 presidential candidates, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, has set a marvelous personal example: He lost 100 pounds and kept it off. All the candidates are talking about energy — maybe it’s time we had one who talked about mass.

RYSSDAL: David Frum was a speech writer for President Bush. At the moment, he’s a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

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