Arguing fat falls flat

A bunch of CEOs met this week and decided that one of the most pressing health care issues that needed to be dealt with was obesity. Now, I’m as obsessive as anybody about obesity — mainly forestalling my own — but their comments just drove me up the wall. Especially vis-a-vis this story today in the LA Times about how more and more seniors are approaching senior-hood with a litany of chronic diseases.

It’s true that obesity is the root cause of some chronic diseases for some people. And chronic diseases then cause the rapid escalation in medical care costs to treat these diseases. But the way that “obesity” is often framed in the health care context is “individual responsibility,” especially when spoken of by CEOs, who seem to exist in a different plane — literally. Usually, when CEOs think about obesity and health policy, they want everyone to go to the gym and take their medicine when they’re supposed to and walk around rather than drive a car.

Obesity lies at the intersection of so many different areas of social policy. Obesity disproportionately affects low-income, communities of color, who — as the story says – live in neighborhoods to dangerous to walk around in. Or you live in neighborhoods — like mine in Downtown Sacramento — where the most affordable gym (if you can afford one) is one where there is algae growing at the bottom of the pool and was actually the site of drowning.

Some people can’t just go to a doctor and take meds for chronic diseases — possibly caused by obesity — when instructed because many are in jobs that don’t offer health benefits, or don’t offer very good ones if they do, making health services cost prohibitive.

Current food policies and subsidies contribute to the availability of cheap bad food (McDonald’s and Taco Bell), versus expensive good food (like cauliflower) — which, in turn, causes obesity. Cauliflower is expensive: $5 for a head — at least that’s what it cost the last time I bought it. It’s really expensive when you consider that a head of cauliflower could be a side dish, but that an entire meal at McDonald’s — the meat, the cheese, the “vegetable” — is less than $5.

I’m not saying obesity isn’t an important thing to tackle. But it’s just so annoying and tone deaf for CEOs to address what has been the effect of our entire social policy, rather than the cause.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.
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