NYT mag on obesity: Don’t punish, politicize
Who paves the road for the responsibility bandwagon?: Were it up to him, Cleveland Clinic heart surgeon Delos Cosgrove would amend the clinic's wellness policy--which already bans the hiring of smokers--to include a ban on the hiring of obese people. His is a hard-line approach linking obesity to personal behavior and responsibility; if the punishment is being shut out of a job, people will change their eating and exercise habits. But is it fair to pin the blame solely on the individual? Nope, opines David Leonhardt in this week's NYT Magazine. "It's hard to argue that Americans have become collectively more irresponsible over the last 30 years," he states, citing falling crime and divorce rates as two examples of progress in the anti-heathen department. "What has changed is our environment." That includes our built environment (less exercise-friendly communities) and our economic environment (the price of fast food has fallen, that of fruit and veggies risen).
In other words, policy matters. Used correctly, policy tools can create healthy incentives that individuals have no power to create themselves. As Leonhardt puts it, "The solutions to these problems are beyond the control of any individual. They involve a different sort of responsibility: civic — even political — responsibility.... [A]ny effort to attack obesity will inevitably involve making value judgments and even limiting people’s choices. Most of the time, the government has no business doing such things. But there is really no other way to cure an epidemic." (New York Times Magazine)
Something to chew on: Leonhardt notes that the price of fruits and vegetables has risen more than 40 percent in the last three decades. But before reading the Times magazine, this Ethicurean spent Sunday morning at the market buying organic, local peaches for $2 a pound, or bruised ones for $1/lb.
When it's bountiful and in season, produce can be pretty inexpensive. So here's a question for the economists in the room: how much of the produce price rise could be attributed to the fact that we no longer eat seasonally? That over the last three decades, our consumption of imported, out-of-season produce has skyrocketed? Discuss.
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