Obese people and politics in AmericaTobacco companies can breathe a sigh of relief. There's a new health terror taking over the public radar: fat Americans.
The idea that growing American waistlines are posing a huge threat to financial well-being is gaining momentum. Signs increasingly show that this topic will affect public opinion and public policy.

Last year, San Francisco banned including promotional toys with fast-food meals that didn't meet certain nutritional requirements.

Now, on the heels of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's controversial stance -- banning large, sugary drinks -- Reuters reports that a California public health watchdog group is demanding a government report on how frequently food stamps are used to procure high-calorie soft drinks and unhealthy food.

Developments like these are making companies like McDonald's (MCD) and Coca-Cola (KO) hopping mad. Although such companies have moved to offer some healthier fare, they argue that consumers' choices are being taken away.
You'd think deep-pocketed corporations like those above would have a lot of influence over these decisions, but part of the issue here is that some people have been crunching numbers about our nation's so-called obesity epidemic -- and those numbers are not good.

Weighing the Data

A recent study from Cornell University claims that obesity-related problems weigh in at nearly 21% of U.S. health care costs, with an estimated total price tag of $190.2 billion per year, twice as much as previously estimated. The study made a strong case for government to intervene more intensively to reduce that number.

Apparently 34% of Americans are now considered "obese," three times as high a percentage as in 1960. Morbid obesity afflicts 6% of our fellow citizens. Those who are studying the outlays of resources on this weighty problem say that obese people are sick more, have more chronic illnesses, and lose work productivity.

Some have even crunched the numbers on other wasteful possibilities when individuals carry extra weight on their frames. Take this data gem Reuters unearthed: Cars need a billion more gallons of gas per year to tote their passengers around than if typical passengers still weighed in at the same amount as they did in 1960.

The obesity health epidemic is sure to overshadow the massive public campaign that's been waged against smoking for years. That's because of a little-known fact: Smokers aren't as much of a financial strain on the system -- because they die younger. By contrast, because many of the medical conditions associated with obesity are chronic but not fatal, the epidemic could have a much larger financial impact.


Big Bottom Line

Obviously, a case is being made that obesity is an extremely expensive concern, and that its costliness is going to affect every American, whether it's because of higher insurance premiums or higher costs as companies build larger capacity for their overweight customers and all kinds of expenses hurting different bottom lines. And growing taxpayer responsibility is a big part of the reason why government's getting increasingly concerned.

But is a large, sugary soda really that evil? What about an occasional Big Mac?

Public-policy makers will increasingly try to convince us that that's the case, and at some point, overweight people may join smokers as the public's favorite pariahs.

Few would defend habits that we all know full well are unhealthy, but many of us still make these choices, for whatever reason. Everybody has a bad habit or two; some people are even self-medicating for emotional reasons. Some people's problems with weight, health, or longevity have more to do with genetic predispositions than bad habits. (I'll bet everyone knows a person who ate whatever they wanted and lived to be 100, or a healthy-living marathon runner who passed away young.)

However, the ongoing drive by politicians and others to demonize behaviors that cost society too much money -- and therefore must be legislatively stopped -- is probably going to be a really major epidemic. Where will it end?

Motley Fool analyst Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Coca-Cola. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Coca-Cola and McDonald's.





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OasisMike

As someone who lived inside my tv set for most of my life, but now have obtained an unprecedented perspective through careful analysis, to get around all of the angles of all the stories and all of the influences behind them...

Don't you think it's odd, that the government protects the interests of pharmaceutical companies who produce nicotine replacement therapies that don't include the MAOI's in the other alkaloids of the tobacco that people are really hooked on more than the nicotine, and fail to provide the truth about tobacco not being carcinogenic unless cured with smoke? (Swedish SNUS cured with percolation doesn't produce enough TSNA's to really measure).

And, isn't the corn subsidy that all corn farmers rely on, really enabling a massive transfer of wealth from the tax payer to the rich? (By artificially lowering the prices on all the ingredients fast food, and junk food are made of)

And, isn't it strange that the one-percent who sponsor our Evenging News shows are also never mentioned in the news, unless accompanies by an apology for whatever they've done?

Finally: If you understood that binge eaters often have ADHD as their base or underlying condition, and if you found out these some of their thought patterns were "locked in" to place before the age of two...and understanding you could never teach them what's really going on, because the information super-highways are all restricted to commercial use only (television)...and that those viewers are often a captive audience, more effected by advertising than most people...would you want to give them a bit more protection from the corporations who victimize them, or mislead them?

We readily accept that people with Tourette syndrome have little responsibility for the epithets they shout, but it's completely beyond our scope of thinking to accept that people who grow up not knowing how to use or control their dopamine, form their own pathways to it, often with negative results, and are really stuck in a pattern that requires lucid explanation, and really a lot of re-structuring of meanings (with facts and reality instead of what we're given on television). Why is it that we can't get to the conversations that need to occur? Why are narratives stripped from our television that cast doubt on false narratives we accept on behalf of the rich? (like we accept that fast food is food, even when it's known that humans have evolved to eat a mostly plant-based diet, and should limit animal products to less than 5% of our diet).

September 05 2012 at 6:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
WIpatriot

SOME smokers knew long ago that gov't using smoking as an excuse to raise taxes on products through the roof doesn't solve anything except allow them to squander more of our money. Just like cap and trade, which would have raised energy taxes through the roof wouldn't change the climate! Watch out, ALL food and drink is now on the radar to tax through the roof. Perhaps just the words you just read, "through the roof" will remind you what happened to the smokers when they come after you!

June 18 2012 at 12:05 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
dmmusicfor

Government is the #1 sponsor of obesity,smoking,and drinking.. Go to the grocery store on the 1st and 15th of the month and look in the shopping cart piled high with junk food being paid with welfare. Then to top it off they walk over to the liquor store and get smokes and alcohol with the remaining cash side.......... No control, like a kid in a candy store.

June 17 2012 at 3:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rmweld

I know I shouldn't let this information out, but folks as long as I can remember, there have always been fat people, skinny people, tall people and short people and nothing is going to change that-----You don't mess with MOTHER NATURE.

June 17 2012 at 10:43 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rmweld's comment
OasisMike

you could also argue that through-out time there have been elites dictating how we should think, and that those beliefs lead us to obesity...that really many people suffer from their beliefs, instead of being up-lifted by more up-to-date narratives

September 05 2012 at 6:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply