Like many others, I am distressed about the local, regional and national obesity epidemic in America. I am also motivated to find, support, and implement a comprehensive solution.
An earlier article presented US obesity prevalences.
For US Adults:
33.8% are obese (32.2% men and 35.5% women)
68% are overweight or obese (74.3% men and 64.1% women)
For US Children
9.5% of infants and toddlers are obese
11.9% of children aged 2 through 19 years are obese
31.7% of children aged 2 through 19 years are obese or overweight
Another earlier article identified US obesity healthcare costs.
Annual U.S. obesity medical costs – $147 billion in 2006
Annual percent of all medical expenditures for obesity – 9.1% in 2006
Annual increased per person obesity medical expenditures – $1,429 in 2006
Annual per person % increase in obesity medical expenditures – 41.5% in 2006
As reported by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US obesity problem has worsened since these articles in this column.
Obesity now threatens to reverse historic US gains in quality of life and longevity.
What are we going to do about this?
Fresh thinking for dealing with the obesity quagmire is needed.
In the October 27, 2011 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine a novel and I think breakthrough idea to help control US obesity is proposed – “dietary cap and trade.”
The article is co-authored by Dr. Kristina H. Lewis from the Harvard Medical School, and Dr. Meredith Rosenthal from the Harvard School of Public Health.
Below in this Part 1, I report the Lewis – Rosenthal proposal. However, I took out their citations, and created separate numbered paragraphs.
In their words:
- “The cap-and-trade strategy debuted in the United States in the 1990s Acid Rain Program, in response to high levels of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides released as by-products of the electrical power industry.”
- “Economists proposed that rather than directly taxing emissions or taking a “command and control” approach, a new way of regulating emissions might maintain free-market ideals while decreasing atmospheric pollution. Under this system, the government placed a limit, or cap, on the amount of sulfur dioxide that a company was allowed to produce but permitted trading of pollution rights.”
- “Because some companies faced greater expenses to cut emissions, businesses cut where they were able, innovated to some degree, and found other companies (for which cutting emissions was relatively simple) with which to trade allowances.”
- “As long as the overall cap was not exceeded, the government didn’t intervene, letting the market work out the details. This policy proved effective, efficient for business, and less costly than previous regulatory approaches. Since its implementation, overall levels of sulfur dioxide emissions have been halved, and air and surface-water quality have improved substantially.”
- “The U.S. food supply can also be viewed as a polluted environment. Because of industry’s practices and consumers’ choices, pollutants such as excessive salt, sweeteners, and unhealthful fat end up damaging our health.”
- “Setting a cap on the amount of harmful ingredients used in U.S. food production could profoundly affect our diet. This approach could take many forms but would probably work best if applied to entities that supply food products directly to consumers, rather than to the producers of the raw ingredients.”
Every once in awhile, I am fortunate to come across carefully considered bold proposals for solving big problems.
This is one of those times.
Obesity is a big problem. To me, dietary cap and trade as proposed by Lewis-Rosenthal is a carefully considered and bold idea. It is worthy of our review and consideration.
Dietary cap and trade even if fully embraced by all the stakeholders will of course not be the only program necessary to bring US obesity under control. But I suspect it can be an important contribution to a comprehensive solution.
In Part 2, I will add commentary and analysis. But in the mean time, I urge you to read and study the Lewis – Rosenthal proposal. Obesity in the US in some way impacts all of us.