Mayor Bloomberg sticks it to Big Soda

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But this is no laughing matter. The U.S. has the highest obesity rate in the world, 30 percent. According to the nonprofit Trust for America’s Health, 44 percent of Americans are projected to be obese by 2030. Obesity is defined as a body mass index, a ratio of height to weight, of greater than 30. In New York, the obesity rate is expected to reach 51 percent –– 1 in 2 New Yorkers –– in the next two decades.

Bloomberg should not be derided. He should be hailed as a hero of public health. You may not agree with his methods, but at least he’s trying to address the obesity crisis. He’s looking out for the people who elected him.

Libertarians say the government should erect no barriers between Americans and their soft drinks. If they want to die long, slow –– or not so slow –– deaths by soda, then, by golly, they should be allowed to do so in peace. There are even those who say that the obesity crisis could be good for the Social Security fund. Michael Tanner, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, recently made that argument in The Wall Street Journal. “Ghoulish as it sounds, government programs may actually benefit from the unhealthy,” Tanner said. “Social Security’s finances are certainly boosted if recipients die early.” I kid you not; those were his actual words.

To me, Tanner’s comments are the height of callousness. But he also ignores the fact that seriously overweight people incur far higher health costs before they die than people of normal weight — conceivably tens of thousands of dollars, if not hundreds of thousands, more per person. There’s no doubt that obesity has, at least in part, caused health insurance costs –– and thus, our premiums –– to shoot through the roof in recent years. Health care expenditures reached a whopping $2.6 trillion in 2010, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Each of us can play a role in containing health costs by maintaining our personal health. In doing so, we contribute to the greater good of society.
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