Should the government help us stay fit?

On May 16, 2010, in Society, by Sandy Zhu

I found this funny calorie comparison online. I’ve always wondered if the government actually has a say on obesity. On the one hand, people have been saying that obesity drives up national health care expenditure because obese people are more likely to get sick. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they raise the TOTAL expenditure–obese people tend to live a shorter life, therefore, their life time health care expenditure might actually be lowered. If obesity is economically neutral, does that mean it’s less legitimate for the government to impose various measures such as calorie display on menus?


2 Responses to Should the government help us stay fit?

  1. Cam says:

    The image is a rather convincing way of demonstrating how every individual has unique nutritional and health needs. Therefore, any heavy-handed bans on types of food are clearly a bad idea. However, I would contend that “calorie display on menus” should be required no matter the net economic effects of obesity. One can argue that a cause of obesity is the lack of transparency about the calories and ingredient in restaurant foods. When one cooks their own food they know what ingredients are being used and can have a rough idea of the number of calories found in the dish. When eating out, one is often ignorant about a dish. With some popular dishes having 2500+ calories, (see this ignorance can mean eating an extra day’s worth of food. I see posting this information as being beneficial to all, as people can still choose to eat unhealthy foods, but at least they know about what they are eating.

    Additionally, one cannot simply look at obesity as an economic issue. For example, it has been argued that obesity is becoming a national security issue, as over 27 percent of all Americans ages 17-24 weigh too much to join the military. (

  2. Jess says:

    Eh. Even I, one of the biggest fans of soft government paternalism when it comes to health, find this one iffy. Mostly because I think food choices can very easily touch on cultural nerves, especially in America. Who am I to tell a Jordanian that they can’t have their mansaf and kunafa? (For the uninitiated, mansaf is lamb and rice dowsed in fermented goat milk, and kunafa is tiny fried dough-noodles with goat cheese dowsed in sugar, butter, and all sorts of other things that are awful for you but taste delicious.) I’m much more comfortable taxing to hell things like tobacco, which I understand can also be tied to culture, but are also objectively bad for you in a way that any food item that does not contain poison is not.

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