Economics of obesity

Former U Chicago colleagues write in the Wall Street Journal:

The rise in obesity is attributable primarily to changes in the price of consuming, and the cost of expending, calories…. The price of food and thus of calories has long been trending downward because of agricultural innovations that have greatly reduced the time and resources required to go from hungry to full. The effect on weight has been reinforced by a simultaneous trend, also technology driven, toward reducing the physical exertion involved in work.

Increased substitution of sedentary leisure activities (television and, more recently, video games and other online activities) for sports and outdoor play has contributed to childhood obesity, again through technological change.
They then go on to suggest that “technology,” such as weight-loss drugs and gastric bypass surgery, can address these problems:

The incentives for medical solutions to obesity are already immense because of the prevalence of obesity and therefore the size of the potential market for solutions.

I disagree.  The “substitutes” they propose (drugs and surgery) have costs and risks.  Obesity itself is costly in lost years of life and wages, although the effects are far out into the future.

I remain dubious! My limited training in economics would say you should raise the prices related to externalities, and tax bad foods such as soda and chips, while tax-incenting purchases fresh vegetables and gym memberships, for examples.

Dr John Ellis MD

Board-certified anesthesiologist, with expertise in cardiovascular anesthesia and the implications of obesity and sleep apnea in anesthesia. See for professional information. Dr. Ellis has used the strategies in here to: (1) lose 120 lbs over 18 months, (2) stop all antihypertensive medicines, and (3) no longer need CPAP treatment for sleep apnea.

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