The Price of Obesity


I am, as noted before, very skeptical that public health attempts to lower the obesity rate will do much good.  Previous public health campaigns to reduce drinking and smoking failed miserably.  What worked?  Banning smoking in public places, raising cigarette taxes sky-high, raising alcohol taxes, and making it increasingly painful to be caught driving while intoxicated.  When these activities became too expensive and difficult, people stopped.

How are we going to do this for food?  What law can you enact forbidding companies to make their food taste too good?  Shall we start upping the tax on restaurants until no one can afford to eat out very much?  The problem is, unlike tobacco and alcohol, people need to eat.  If you raise the price of food, there will be real hardship.

But the other reason I'm skeptical is that there is already a really steep, immediate cost to being overweight.  From someone who's lost nearly a hundred pounds: 

Obephobia is the last socially acceptable form of discrimination in this country. In fact, Washington, D.C., is the only province in the U.S.A. with laws to protect employees from being wrongly discriminated against because of their weight. People routinely denigrate and shame overweight people with no social consequences. It reminds me of my mom's stories of growing up in Memphis at the height of Jim Crow. Please do not tell me that black people are born black but "fatties" choose to be fat; I'll decimate that argument in another blog post. This one is already too long.

I could write for hours about the embarrassment that I endured because of my previous size, but I want to point out a select few:

1. Calling a restaurant that advertised the need for a hostess. On the phone they were enthusiastic and interested, and when I showed up for the interview about an hour later, the boss looked at me from head to toe and told me the position already was filled.

2. There are all these scam charities in D.C. where canvassers approach you on the street asking for a donation to "help save the children from violence." They get cagey and defensive when you point out that they have no non-profit status or address. Once when I was approached downtown, I said, "I'm sorry, I don't give money to this type of charity." The canvasser replied, "You need to be spending your money on Metabolife."

These are far from the worst stories I've heard.  Heavy people, particularly women, have lower lifetime incomes, find it harder to date, and otherwise face discrimination and opprobrium at every turn.  What's fifty cents or a dollar on a bag of Doritos?

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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