The congressman's budget plan might not be a good way to tackle the federal deficit, but his approach could help solve one of our biggest public health problems
With historical deficits averaging 2.5 percent of GDP, the United States is now wrestling with budget shortfalls approaching four times that rate. To address this burden, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan proposed his Path to Prosperity, a polarizing program of budget cuts considered by Democrats and Republicans alike to be a draconian antidote to the nation's budgetary ills.
Ryan's tough-love recommendations include:
- Cap spending
- Keep taxes low so the economy can grow; and
- Reducing government spending to historical levels, below 20 percent of GDP.
Though geared to fiscal matters, Ryan's prescription could just as easily be applied to address America's obesity crisis.
In contrast to the attention paid by politicians to exploding federal deficit levels, there is no "Ryan Plan" to reverse excess calorie proliferation and stratospheric obesity rates. This is surprising given that the signals have been apparent for years.
The overabundance of calories in our food supply becomes evident when one considers that the number of calories available for Americans to consume is up 30 percent since 1970. Meaning that today there are over 600 more calories available per person per day than 40 years ago, as shown in the graph below.
More importantly, we missed the "tipping point" on rising obesity rates. As the next graph demonstrates, the 1980s provided plenty of hints that something was amiss. And unlike the reaction to stimulus spending over the past three years, we still ache for an all-encompassing strategy to win the War on Obesity.
Like the national budget deficit, excessive calorie consumption and exorbitant obesity rates are unsustainable. Obesity now costs over $200 billion annually in the United States alone and takes a heavy toll on health in the form of diabetes, heart disease, strokes, and cancer.