Table of Contents
There have been various discourses on obesity which recognized the gravity of its impact on global health. Obesity has been categorized as a public health concern in the United States (Winkles), an epidemic (Yang and Nichols), and a global pandemic (Hodge, Orenstein and Corbett). Despite the acknowledgement that obesity had affected and continues to impact varied cultures and societies on a global scale, health organizations and governments seemed to lack the efficiency and effectiveness of instituting policies and measures that would ultimately abate obesity’s confounding dilemma. According to Hodge, Orenstein and Corbett, “in 2012, one authoritative report projected that adult obesity rates would climb to 44% by 2030, costing up to $66 billion in direct healthcare costs and $580 billion in lost economic productivity per year” (3). The current measures instituted by the government to help abate obesity are deemed to be ineffective and insufficient (Hodge, Orenstein and Corbett). As reported, current reforms to ensure more stringent measures to abate obesity include the following: “(1) “obesity laden pricing” of all “junk foods” that is tied to societal costs underlying their mass consumption; (2) “healthy food savings accounts” (HFSAs) to facilitate healthier food purchases; (3) restaurant taxincentives to encourage sales of healthier menu offerings; (4) federal tax credits to promote individual weight loss and physical activity; and (5) bans on the sale and possession of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) among minors in all public places” (Hodge, Orenstein and Corbett 3). Despite these measures, current results revealed that “still, Americans are gaining weight, especially children and adolescents” (Hodge, Orenstein and Corbett 2). The results indicate ineffectiveness of current measures in addressing obesity. As such, the current discourse hereby contends that the government should impose more stringent measures to assist in preventing the increasing trend in obesity and finally help those identified with this chronic illness to exhibit optimistic trends towards recovery.
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Government initiatives to address obesity
Positive reinforced options
There have been several measures instituted by federal, state, as well as local governments in the attempt to curb the increasing trends in obesity. Positive reinforced options include offering incentives to restaurants and food retailers to sell healthier options, mandating strong nutritional standards and food labelling, and participating in government, as well as employer-based nutritional assistance programs, among others (Pomeranz; Yang and Nichols). These measures could be considered positive since these have been designed to motivate and influence stakeholders to institute courses of action that do not pose any perceived resistance in general. The types of incentives offered to restaurants and food retailers to sell healthier options, for instance, were learned to include technical assistance, tax incentives, or even grants or loans, as needed. On the other hand, strong food labelling indicating nutritional information had been recognized as critical and essential to enhance the awareness of consumers on the amounts of caloric content of the foods they eat. Furthermore, participating and government, as well as employment-based nutritional assistance programs could include wellness programs. In fact, according to Yang and Nichols, “Johnson & Johnson has long experimented with wellness programs and recently settled on a combination of health risk assessment, coaching, and financial incentives. They did not single out obese or overweight individuals, but targeted them implicitly by inviting those with high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or who smoke to participate in a health management program” (384-385). However, it should also be noted that the results of the program were reported as still being compiled. As revealed, “Johnson & Johnson offered the original screener/health risk assessment to all employees, and 94% participated, incentivized by the $500 discount off annual employee premiums. Resultsare still being compiled for the ongoing program, but so far Johnson & Johnson has saved, in medical costs alone, over $200 per enrolled worker every year since 1995” (Yang and Nichols 385). The program is therefore proposed to be similarly applied in other work settings, both in public as well as private organizations all over the country.
Negative sanctioned options
Concurrently, government regulations that could be considered as negative sanctioned options due to the perceived resistance of affected sectors include imposed taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, restrictions imposed on the sale of certain identified foods in school, and requiring warning labels in selected products identified to have tendencies for causing obesity (Veerman, Sacks and Antonopoulos; Winkles). The imposition of 20 percent taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) in Australia since 2010, for example, had been reported to have generated positive results in terms of recording lesser new cases of diseases that were prevented, as shown in Figure 1, below:
Figure 1: Projected annual number of new cases of disease prevented over time after implementation of a 20% tax on sugar sweetened drinks in Australia
Source: Veerman, Sacks and Antonopoulos 5
From the graph, it could be seen that the incidences of type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (DM) significantly declined after the imposition of the 20% tax on SSBs. The impact on other illnesses, such as ischemic heart disease (IHD), hypertensive heart disease (HD), osteoarthritis, post-menopausal breast cancer, colon cancer, endometrial cancer, and kidney cancer, were not significantly evident.
In addition, health care costs which were revealed to be manifesting a similarly increasing trend with the rate of obesity, would exhibit savings after a 20% tax imposition, as shown in Figure 2, below:
Figure 2: Health care cost savings over time after implementation of a 20% tax on sugared drinks in AustraliaSource: Veerman, Sacks and Antonopoulos 7
The graph shows that there would be increasing health care cost savings for the first 20 years and eventually stabilize at about AUD29 million per year thereafter (Veerman, Sacks and Antonopoulos). As such, the imposition of 20% tax on SSBs have been documented to be effective in addressing obesity in the long-run.
Banning the sale of identified products which had been observed to be linked to obesity were also widely insituted, especially in schools. For instance, the sale of SSBs or softdrinks, and products laden with artificial trans fats (Winkles). Simultaneously, warning in product labels were noted to be essential since “consumer studies show that the lack of labeling may contribute to overconsumption of unhealthy foods at each point” (Winkles 559). As such, inciting fear on the minds of consumers on overconsumption of unhealthy food and beverages or increasing prices of SSBs were observed to be also effective in curbing obesity.
Analysis and Recommendation
Despite the extensiveness of proposed government measures and initiatives that aim to address obesity, it has been reported that obesity rate continues to increase (Hodge, Orenstein and Corbett). In fact, Pomeranz disclosed that the root problem lies in the ability of government and health agencies to enact the initiated regulations. As indicated, “approximately half of the public health departments in the country can promulgate regulations; however, only approximately 17% report enacting regulations as a primary activity” (Pomeranz 1193). Therefore, the following recommendations are proposed:
- Ensure that local, state, and federal health regulatory agencies that promulgate regulations, specifically in addressing obesity, should enact and monitor the application of the initiatives and measures to prevent obesity on a regular and long-term basis;
- Policy-makers and authorities tasked to institute these measures should also design rewards and penalties. Incentives were noted to have been provided; yet penalties or sanctions for failing to institute these measures were not mentioned or applied;
- Measure the impact of each initiative in terms of benefits and costs incurred, specifically in terms of addressing performance indicators or standards relating to obesity;
- As proposed, “Congress should adopt a uniform nutrient disclosure law for restaurants”
(Winkles 550). Conflicting local, state, and federal laws make implementation of regulations difficult.
- Consistent and uniform collaboration of local, state, and federal health agencies in terms of instituting the recommended initiatives to curb, address, and ultimately prevent obesity should be ensured;
- Measuring the impact of each initiative, in terms of the effect on obesity rates should be undertaken to determine which measure is more effective, in collaboration with other initiatives;
- Educating parents, students, and local community members on the health hazards of obesity should be enforced as preventive measures which are consistent with long-term health goals.
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The problem of addressing obesity has been acknowledged as global in sphere and scope. Despite measures and initiative instituted by various government and health regulatory agencies, obesity rates continue to increase. It is therefore high time that policy-makers should admit that there is a need to take more stringent measures to abate the increasing trend of obesity, as well as health care costs associated to address it. Through the suggested measures, it is critical to focus on the need for various agencies to enact, monitor, and measure the impact of various recommended initiatives on obesity rates and trends, to clearly understand which among these initiatives are actually effective. When identified, a unilateral application of regulations should be enforced in all levels of society, with the collaboration of educators and local community leaders, so that obesity could be nipped at the grassroots level.
- Hodge, Jr., J. G., et al. “New Frontiers in Obesity Control: Innovative Public Health Legal Interventions.” Duke Forum for Law & Social Change (2013): Vol. 5, No. 1, 1-37. Print.
- Pomeranz, J. L. “The Unique Authority of State and Local Health Departments to Address Obesity.” American Journal of Public Health (2011): Vol 101, No. 7, 1192-1197. Print.
- Veerman, J. L., et al. “The Impact of a Tax on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages on Health and Health Care Costs: A Modelling Study.” PLoS ONE (2016): Vol. 11, No. 4, 1-10. Print.
- Winkles, D. E. “Weighing the Value of Information: Why the Federal Government Should Require Nutrition Labelling for Food Served in Restaurants.” Emory Law Journal (2007): Vol. 59, 549-584. Print.
- Yang, Y. T. and L. M. Nichols. “Obesity and Health System Reform: Private versus Public Responsibility.” Journal of Law, Medicine, & Ethics (2011): 380-386. Print.