The Cost of Obesity-- and How to Fix It

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I don't usually take estimates of the cost of bad diets and obesity too seriously because they are necessarily based on multiple assumptions, none of them verifiable. But I do like to collect them. Here are two papers from the American Journal of Health Promotion estimating such costs.

One estimates the health benefits and savings in medical costs from diets reduced in saturated fat, sodium, and calories (a savings of $60 to 120 billion), and the other estimates cost savings and productivity increases for reduction in calories and sodium ($109 to 256 billion). Whatever the real savings are, they are likely to be enormous. And that's just money. It's harder to put a value on quality of life. Maybe that's all we need to know at this point.

Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy has invented a Revenue Calculator for Soft Drink Taxes for estimating the amounts of money states and cities could raise from taxes on soft drinks. You type in the state or city, estimate the size of the tax, decide what kinds of drinks it's for, and push the button. Bingo. California could raise about $1.8 billion a year from a 1-cent tax.

And the Department of Health and Human Service has hooked up with the Advertising Council for a new kids' activity campaign on the Internet, this one using Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are tied in to a movie coming out in October. I wasn't so happy about the last such campaign, which featured Shrek and is still up on the site. Shrek also advertises junk foods. Maybe this one will work better?

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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