INTRODUCTIONObesity is a major health problem that has continuedto be a matter of public concern. The percentage of obese adults and childrenhas constantly doubled over the years. It has been associated with other healthissues such as; heart disease, diabetes, stroke, certain types of cancer, highblood pressure and so on. This is whyobesity is known to be one of the major causes of death and it lowers life expectancy.The medical costs of obesity are extremely high due to the long treatments ofthe disease and these costs are carried upon by healthcareschemes rather than the patients. Obesity is measured by the body mass index (BMI). Bodymass index is defined as weight measured in kilograms divided by heightmeasured in meter squared (kg/m2). (Grossman and Rashad, 2004).
Theideal BMI value for adults is considered to be between 18.5 and 24.9 regardlessof the gender. Also, adults with BMI value within the range of 25 and 29.9 areconsidered overweight and if their BMI value is from 30 and above, they areconsidered obese. (NHS, 2016).In this essay, I will analyzethe economics of obesity by answering the following questions; what explainsincreasing obesity? What are the costs of obesity? What are the justificationsfor public health intervention? Which policies might be implemented to tackleobesity?CAUSESOF INCREASING OBESITYObesity is a health problem that has constantlyincreased and gotten out of control even among educated individuals anddeveloped countries.
Figure 1 below shows the rise in the body mass index ofeducated adults over the years. Figure 1: Obesity for Adult Americans byEducation Groups 1980 1990 2000 2010 (Source: Sood and Bhattacharya, 2011) The graph above shows that even among the educatedpopulation, there has been an increasingrate of obesity. This explains that obesity is a serious issue, as educatedindividuals are believed to be less likely to be obese because they are moreinformed about the risks associated with the disease.
In order to tackleobesity, we need to understand how and why obesity became a problem in thefirst place.Obesity could be transferred through genes i.e. it hasa large genetic component which is why a certain individual could be obese.
However, it does not explain why obesity has rapidly increased over the years.Researchers explain that this increase could be as a result of the following;changes in social environment, technological innovations, changes in taste andconsumer habits. (Grossman and Rashad, 2004).In regard to technological innovation, the introductionof changes such as; microwaves, preservatives, artificial flavors and so on has contributed to theincrease in obesity. The introduction of these innovations means individuals donot need to spend a lot of time cooking as most food now come pre-cooked.Whereas, in the past decades, when these types of technologies had not been invented,families cooked their own food and ate it at home.
The introduction of thesetechnologies has led to an increase in calories intake. (Cutler et al., 2003). A theory was generated by (Cutler et al.
, 2003), andthis was illustrated by using a potato. The theory explains that before thecommencement of world war II, Americans were large consumers of potatoes andthey consumed it in various forms such as; mashed, boiled or baked. However,after the war, technologies were introduced and this made it easier to makepotatoes in a different form i.e. french fries. This could not be done beforethe technologies were introduced because of the time it takes in making it.Now, french fries are made using new technologies and are packaged forconsumption, where it could be easily microwaved or even reheated using a deepfryer or oven. This explains that individuals are more likely to demand thesekinds of food such as microwaveable meals because they are quicker and easierto prepare but this could lead to health problems such as obesity as thesetypes of food are fatty and high in calories.
Also, technological changes in agriculture have also contributed to the increase inobesity. As the introduction of these changes has led to the reduction in theprices of food which has caused an increase in the demand for food byconsumers. The decline in physical exercise has also contributed to theincrease in obesity. Individuals living in environments that have recreationalcenters and several stores within their reach are less likely to be obese. (Grossmanand Rashad, 2004).The table above shows asurvey that was taken in several years. It shows the body mass index and thepercentage of obese adults.
As seen from the table, the BMI has constantlyincreased over the years.Changes in tastes and consumer habits are alsoresponsible for the increase in obesity. The rapid growth in the establishmentof fast food restaurants plays animportant role in determining the rate of obesity. According to a researchcarried out by (Currie et al., 2010), they found that the proximity to fastfood restaurants could contribute to the increase in obesity.
They explainedthat schools that are within one-tenth of a mile of a fast food restaurant couldlead to an increase of about 1.7 percent of obese students relative to the presenceof a fast food restaurant that is at 0.25 miles. Also, they explained that theestablishment of fast food restaurants is not left out on the effect it has onobesity. Most restaurants open their establishments in environments where thedemand for fast food is expected to be high and this leads to a high risk ofincreasing obesity. Smoking has been discovered to be one of the causes of the rise of obesity.
This is as a result ofthe spike in the prices of cigarette and the imposition of high taxes on cigarette. This led consumers to quit smoking, makingthem eat more because of the ability ofcigarettes in suppressing the appetite had come to an end. Smoking has been consideredto be responsible for about 20 percent of the increase in obesity. For every 10percent increase in the price of cigarette,it led to a 2 percent increase in the number of obese people.
(Grossman andRashad, 2004).From the research carried out by (Grossman and Rashad,2004), they found that an individuals’ social environment could influence therisk of being obese. They further explained that there are some compromisesassociated with achieving certain goals that favorthe society. These include; reduction in the prices of food has increased the living standard of individuals as they havebeen able to save more. Labour markets favoringwomen has given women the opportunity to work where ever they desire and it hasincreased the equality of opportunities.
COSTSOF OBESITYAs stated earlier, obesity has been associated withseveral health conditions and this has economic consequences on the government, insurance companies, and employers. The costs of obesity are dividedinto two. These are direct and indirect cost.The growth of obesity has been found to have directcosts. These direct costs include the medical expenses spent on obese patients.Obesity being a disease linked with otherhealth conditions has high medical costs.
This means that an increase inobesity leads to an increase in the annual medical expenses. Studies show thatthe increase in obesity causes the annual medical expenses to increase by 9.1percent per year. (Finkelstein et al., 2010).Apart from direct costs, obesity has indirect costs.
Indirect costs have to do with the loss ofproductivity. Most obese individuals tend to be absent from work and less productivewhile at work (this is known as presenteeism). This costs the government andemployers a huge sum of money and also affects the profitability of organizations. As most employers find itdifficult to finance the high medical expenses of obese individuals. (Finkelsteinet al., 2010). The figure below shows the per capita medical expenditures and lossof productivity as a result of beingobese and overweight. This graph analyses full-timeemployees, both male and female.
Note: Grade I obesity (BMI 30 to 34.9), Grade II obesity(BMI 35 to 39.9), Grade III obesity (BMI of 40 or greater) (Source: Finkelstein etal., 2010)Another cost of obesity includesthe personal costs. Personal costs entail the negative effect it has on thehealth of the individual. Knowing that obesity is linked to other medical conditions like hypertension,type II diabetes, high blood pressure, psychologicaldisorder such as depression, heart disease and so on. This explains that obesityhas a high personal cost as it also reduces the life expectancy of an obeseindividual.
JUSTIFICATIONSFOR PUBLIC HEALTH INTERVENTIONAs obesity has beenregarded as a public issue, health care schemes such as Medicare and Medicaid havebeen introduced to relieve obese individuals from the high medical cost oftreating obesity. Also, the government has taken particular interests in childobesity, as the government is already involved in the lives of children. So,they could use this medium to tackle child obesity.
Apart from the largegenetic component associated with obesity, most children are obese because theydo not have enough information about the consequences of their actions.Availability of health careprograms like Medicare and Medicaid relieves obese individuals from the costsof their medical treatments. However, a question that needs to be answered is ifhealth insurance programs contribute to the risk of an individual being obese. Accordingto a research carried out by (Sood and Bhattacharya, 2011), they ran anexperiment to find out if health insurance schemes contribute the risk of beingof obese. They used an intensive margin case i.e. the move from a less generoushealth insurance coverage to a more generous health insurance coverage. At theend of the experiment, they found that people gained weight over the years ofthe experiment.
However, they found that having a more generous healthinsurance scheme does not necessarily contribute to weight gain.POLICIESIMPLEMENTED TO TACKLE OBESITYSeveral policieshave been introduced to help in tackling obesity. Some of these policiesinclude; imposing taxes on food with high caloric content or subsidies, socialmarketing, nutrition labeling, raisingpremiums for the obese. If the government puts in the same effort into tacklingobesity just like how they made effort in reducing smoking, it could go a longway.
However, if a subsidy on physical activity is introduced, it could have anegative effect in controlling obesity. An increase in physical activity may leadto individuals consuming more food, as weight control could also stimulate foodconsumption. (Philipson and Posner, 1999). Also, imposing taxes on food withhigh caloric content affects other individuals that consume these types of foodin moderation. As they will have to pay more to consume these types of food.In regard to nutrition labeling,most individuals do not always look at the nutritional contents of their food.
This is because a lot of people nowadays are always busy with work hence, theydo not have the time to read the labelingon their food before eating it. Also, raising premiums for the obese couldreduce the rise in obesity. However, this could raise equity concerns thatcould be considered as obesity has a large genetic component. Social marketingalso has a role to play in tackling obesity. Social marketing campaigns could beused to raise awareness to the public about the risks associated with obesity. Some other policies that could be implemented include;producers should make an effort in reducing the sugar and fat content in theirfood, Controlling the advertisements of unhealthy food to children, laws thatare implemented in discouraging unhealthy food should be strengthened, the foodstandards of food served in schools should be monitored.
Children are easily influencedby what they see, so if more advertisements containing healthy food aredisplayed, this might encourage children to eat more of healthy food ratherthan unhealthy food. As child obesity is also an issue, schools could play arole in reducing the risks of obesity in children. If more schools startserving healthier meals, it could contribute to children having a healthierlifestyle. In local communities, the government could support them in planninglaws that encourage healthy eating rather than having an unhealthy lifestyle. (TheFood Foundation, 2016). Some of thesepolicies have been helpful but we need to take into consideration that the riskof obesity depends on the individual.
For example, if a person goes to agrocery store, the individual has the option of picking fruits and vegetablesor junk food. If the individual decides to pick junk food, the consumer cannotbe forced to pick the healthy option (fruits and vegetables).CONCLUSIONAs we can see, obesity is a serious health problemthat could lead to early death and it is constantly increasing. It has beendeemed a public concern because of how deadly the disease could be. Some of thecauses of obesity are as a result of positive changes made to the nation, suchas; technological changes etc.
However, we cannot necessarily say that thesepositive changes are bad because of the negative effect it has on obesity. Thereduction in the risks of getting obese solely depends on the individual andlifestyle changes. As the costs of obesity are high, individuals need to evaluatethe risks associated with their lifestyle.
Even though the government can tryto curtail the increase in obesity, by implementing some policies, these changescan only be determined by the individual. As the government cannot control whatindividuals eat. Imposing food taxes could be a means of managing the rise inobesity, however, a better way could be by encouraging people to exercise withincentives like giving benefits to individuals who exercise and by reducing theprices of weight loss programs and facilities.