I use running to check out or check in. I use it to become absent or to become present. I listen to my shoes crunching through the snow, to my favorite tunes or just to the world around me. Running, for me has become the only time when I can break away from the direct work responsibilities to expand my mind. To do this, I often listen to podcasts of a variety of types. This past Saturday while running in Mill Creek Park, I found myself listening to a local Youngstown NPR channel and to a rebroadcast of a February 2012 debate from Intelligence Squared US entitled Obesity Is The Government’s Business.
Granted by listening to this while running and while listening to National Public Radio, I’m already self selecting into a specific stereotype, and when I heard this was a debate, I initially reacted by thinking, “What is there to debate about?”. 78 million adults and 12 million children are obese. We spend more than $150 billion (with a B) addressing chronic and largely preventable illnesses, brought about from poor lifestyle choices and personal decisions. Of course our government has a role in solving this problem.
The panel for this debate was impressive with Dr. David Satcher, former Surgeon General and Dr. Pamela Peeke, WebMD’s Lifestyle Expert representing the Affirmative, and John Stossel, FOX Business News Anchor and Paul Compos, author of The Obesity Myth opposing government’s involvement.
The main point of Drs. Satcher and Peeke are that government has a role in providing an environment where everyone can participate in healthy and active lifestyle choices regardless of socioeconomic status – access to sidewalks, parks, foods, etc. Those opposed to the motion argued that this was largely about awareness and anyone can watch Richard Simmons or P90X commercials and know that being overweight or obese is not a desirable trait in our culture and that the problem with government being involved is largely that 1) government has a lousy track record of making a difference in people’s behaviors, 2) that schools are having enough problem teaching reading and writing without asking them to teach nutrition, and 3) we are a free society and government shouldn’t be involved in the individual decisions of its citizens. They also put forth a few specious arguments such as the proposition that there is no evidence that obesity is unhealthy or responsible for rising heath care costs.
I was disappointed that there were a number of important positions that went unexplored in this debate including the fact that government is already involved directly in obesity when they subsidize commercially available packaged foods and factory farming of foods that contribute to this issue in turn making whole real foods more expensive and less accessible by comparison. They also did not fully explore the fact that rising healthcare costs are largely contributing to one of the most significant national defense issues of our time by throwing us deeper and deeper into debt. They also did not explore the fact that healthy people subsidize the poor decisions and bad behaviors of those who just don’t care or who selfishly have decided that somehow they are entitled to these as rights under our constitution. Why should my tax dollars go to support their bad decisions and how is that not a government issue?
What actually amazed me most of all is that the team opposed to obesity being government’s business actually won the debate. I’m not sure how to interpret this with so many facts and the preponderance of evidence weighing in favor of what many would see as common sense. Listening to this on the heels of the Newtown slaughter also reminded me that there are a lot of Americans who simply are willing to sacrifice a whole lot of lives to protect what they see as their individual freedoms and liberties. Similar to the debate on gun control, those opposed to government’s involvement really didn’t provide any alternative recommendations on how to actually solve the problem, only that whichever path is chosen, government should not be involved. Now I’m Jewish and my mother was first generation born in the United States and I grew up ever wary of fascist overzealous controlling governments that strip away the freedoms of its citizens in order to promote a particular point of view. So am I just naive? Am I ignorant? Must we always and forever assume that representatives of a duly elected government will always be looking for ways to harm its citizens? I’m not sure I buy it. I guess I believe that liberties and a government that actively helps its citizens can responsibly coexist.
In any case, do listen to the debate here: Obesity is The Government’s Business. It’s definitely worth your time while commuting or working out. It provides a good summary of the facts surrounding this extremely important issue in our country. Its an issue that won’t be solved any time soon, but must be solved to avoid a tremendous amount of suffering in the future. Interested in your opinion.