Now that we're getting ready to spend a whole lot of money providing health care for other people, obesity is becoming an increasingly pressing topic. There's a fair amount of controversy over how much upward pressure obesity puts on health care costs, but the wear and tear on joints alone heralds millions of dollars worth of arthritis drugs and knee replacements in our public health plan's future.
But there's a very profound problem of evolutionary psychology here. For the vast majority of human existence people were engaged in much more daily physical activity than is the typical member of a contemporary rich society and it was impossible to be certain that food would be available in the future. Consequently, people are largely designed with the instinct to err on the side of eating more food rather than less. Especially if the food is tasty. These days, of course, we're in a very different situation. Nobody starves to death in the contemporary United States, but lots of people have problems related to poor dietary habits.
Hardly an original point on my part. But the sign made me think of
it. And I suppose I would make the point that at the margin
expenditures of funds to fight this tendency are going to do a lot more
to improve public health than will expenditures of funds to treat
That presumes you can find a marginal dollar that will reduce peoples' tendency to eat more than they burn just as effectively as we treat diabetes. Seven years ago, when I investigated fast food lawsuits, I found very little evidence for that proposition. Pretty much every public health effort to get people to eat less has proven a dismal failure. As Paul Campos has noted, telling people to eat less and exercise more is the most exhausitvely attempted experiment in the history of science. And we have 200 million data points that prove just how badly it works at keeping Americans slender.