Although experts say obesity rates are leveling off, it still affects one-third of all adults. Many people have put forth ideas to fight the obesity epidemic—some good, some bad. In the latter category, for example, is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to ban the sale of drinks larger than 16 ounces, which is unlikely to be consistently applied and which some experts say will have little if any effect. In the former category is a plan supported by the American Medical Association to give kids and teens annual instruction in healthy eating and healthy living.
The AMA elected to support moves to create special classes in first through 12th grades that focus on obesity. In these classes, students would be taught about what causes obesity and how to prevent it. Lessons will also focus on the consequences, including that being overweight puts people at significantly higher risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The resolution notes that a weight loss of as little as five pounds can make a huge difference in someone’s health and longevity.
As in so many areas, the importance of education cannot be understated. Most people tend to make good decisions if they have the tools and knowledge available to them. Children who know how and why to eat right grow up into adults who eat right. Students who learn how to avoid obesity grow into adults who learn to avoid obesity. And the benefits may come sooner than that if the kids influence adults in their families to make better choices for their health.
The AMA meeting also addressed the issue of a soda tax. While the group refused to endorse a tax there was support for the idea of using the proceeds from a soda tax that may be enacted to fund programs to fight obesity.
There was some concern that such a tax would fall disproportionately on the poorest consumers. Sales taxes in general are costlier for poorer households, and a soda tax would be no exception. Furthermore, it is debatable whether there’s a straightforward relationship between drinking soda and obesity, or between sin taxes and consumption. However, using such a tax specifically to fight obesity is an important step towards dealing with the problem.