War on drugs? Where is the government war on obesity?

War on drugs? Where is the government war on obesity?

The government sponsored war on drugs, at a cost $15.5 billion/year has as its goal to reduce drug use and its consequences in the US (Ref. 1, 2011 FY Budget Summary). Sadly, in 2007 (the most recent year for which data were available), the economic impact of illicit drug use on American society totaled more than $193 billion (Ref. 1).

But, where is the war on obesity? In 2009, the consequences of being overweight or obese cost a combined $270 billion (overweight, $72 billion; obesity, $198 billion; Ref. 2) in excess medical costs, mortality, and disability. The Society of Actuaries in 2010 (Ref. 2) reviewed almost 500 research articles published between 1980-2009 on obesity and its relation to mortality, and found that being overweight or obese is associated with increased prevalence of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cancer, kidney disease, stroke, osteoarthritis and sleep apnea. In addition, being obese significantly increases the risk of death and morbidity (Ref. 2). Although the government has sponsored a “let’s move” program, and, has invested $750 million in research with the goal of preventing tobacco use, obesity and heart disease (Ref. 4), these are minor moves when compared with the $270 billion economic burden of being overweight or obese.

The number of Americans that are overweight (BMI between 25.0–29.9) or obese (BMI of more than 30) is continuing to rise, and, it has been projected that by the year 2030, half of all US citizens will be obese, resulting in an additional cost of ~$60 billion/year (Ref. 5).

What’s the solution to this health crisis? In my opinion, taxes on all prepared and junk food. In other words, fruits, vegetables, raw nuts, meat, fish, eggs and dairy would not be taxed. There would be no taxes on farmed items, but, additional taxes on everything else. And, I believe this will work for the same reason that cigarette taxes have reduced the amount of smokers in the state of NY.

In 2008, NY increased its state cigarette excise tax by $1.25 to a total of $2.75 per pack, making it the highest state cigarette tax in the nation at the time. One year later, adult smoking in the state was at its lowest rate ever recorded, 16.7% of all New Yorkers. This was a 12% decrease, or nearly 310,000 fewer adult smokers than in 2008 (Ref. 3).

Furthermore, when reading the upcoming quote, the same argument can be made for reducing both childhood and adult obesity: “Cigarette taxes and are the most effective way to reduce smoking because higher prices drive people to quit, and, prevent young people from starting smoking. The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids estimated that New York’s $1.25 cigarette tax increase would prevent more than 243,000 New York children alive today from smoking and motivate 140,000 more New York smokers to quit for good” (Ref. 3).

In an attempt to further reduce cigarette smoking in NY, the cigarette tax was raised an additional $1.60 in 2010.

Isn’t it about time that city, state and the federal government start a war against obesity?



1) http://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/2011-national-drug-control-strategy (2011 FY Budget Summary)

2) Society of Actuaries, “Obesity and its Relation to Mortality and Morbidity Costs” 2010.

3) http://www.health.ny.gov/press/releases/2009/2009-06-04_cigarette_tax_iincrease_anniversary.htm

4) http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2011pres/02/20110209b.html, “HHS Announces $750 million Investment in Prevention”

5) Wang YC, McPherson K, Marsh T, Gortmaker SL, Brown M. Health and economic burden of the projected obesity trends in the USA and the UK. Lancet. 2011 Aug 27;378(9793):815-25.




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