Unbiased Analysis of Today's Healthcare Issues

Obesity ‘equal to terror threat’

Written By: Jason Shafrin - Aug• 15•08

The BBC recently reported that a Durham University professor David Hunter is claiming that obesity is such a problem that its “…threat to our future health is just as significant as the current security threat.” What is Dr. Hunter’s solution?

He said that bigger warning labels, changes in the taxation of “unhealthy” foods, and even the use of compulsory regulations to force manufacturers to cut levels of salt, sugar and fat in their foods could be employed.

I am not sure where you weigh in (pun intended) on this debate, but I think that this is pure hyperbole. Obesity is a health problem, but is one where rational individuals are able to trade-off buying inexpensive, tasty, high calorie meals against the health risks of due to increased obesity. Further, the benefits of eating high calorie, low cost meals are never mentioned. As the cost per calorie decreases, individuals in society are able to afford to purchase more goods (e.g., education, housing).

On the other hand, individuals who experience a terrorist attack are not able to choose their own fate.

If the price of health insurance was risk adjusted so that obese individuals–who are more at risk for diseases such as diabetes–would pay more for health insurance, this would give individuals an incentive to lose weight. In theory this makes sense, but sometimes individuals gain weight when they are sick (since they cannot exercise) and thus risk adjusting health insurance premiums for obesity may be problematic. Nevertheless, claiming that obesity is a bigger problem then terrorism is going too far.

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