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WITH A NEW report predicting that at least half the people in 39 states, including Virginia, will be obese by 2030, you'd think that Americans would take whatever common-sense steps we could to head off a future of such rotundity. One obvious action: barring the purchase of sugary sodas and fat- and salt-laden junk foods with food stamps.
The belt-busting numbers continue to get bleaker. The new report is from Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, organizations that have teamed up before to publicize the bloating of America. Projections from the Centers for Disease Control of slightly smaller obesity rates may be too modest because they rely on self-reported data. The new study factored in Americans' tendency to fudge their height and weight responses.
The report ranks Virginia 40th among the states, predicting that exactly 50 percent of us will be corpulent Cavaliers by 2030. That's dismaying, but still a lot better than No. 1 Mississippi, where a full two-thirds of residents will qualify as obese by then.
A nation that's trying to control health costs, the report suggests, is wasting its time unless it takes on obesity, which is linked to such prevalent ailments as hypertension and heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, and even infertility. By 2030, warn the groups, the nation's tab for obesity-related illnesses will hit $66 billion.
Turning the tables on obesity is easier said than done. The dystopian American lifestyle--dictated by, among other factors, a paucity of good-paying jobs with regular hours--has become one of eating on the run, making quick and bad dining choices, and having too little free time and energy to exercise. As the middle class shrinks, middles expand.
But on the socioeconomic scale, obesity does tip toward the poor, both in rural areas and the inner city.
One way to combat that is to bar the purchase of sugary beverages and junk food with food stamps under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. A 2010 Harvard study in California found that obesity rates were 30 percent higher among food-stamp recipients than the general population. Leading the nation with the largest percentage of food-stamp users is Mississippi, according to Census and U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics. That's the same state that's No. 1 in grossly overweight people.
Sugary sodas, soft drinks, "pops"--whatever one calls them--are especially pernicious, which is why New York has limited their purchase to 16-oz. containers in many venues. New research, published online in the New England Journal of Medicine, finds that liquified sugars uniquely interact with the "fat" genes most of us harbor, causing weight gains independent of standard overeating and too little exercise. Soda consumption and obesity rates have both doubled, rising like tied-together balloons, since the 1970s.
This is slow-motion mass suicide--and national walletcide. Government rules already deny the purchase of alcohol and tobacco using food stamps, as well as lunch-counter items and store-prepared, ready-to-eat foods. Adjusting the technology is not the major problem.
The USDA, which operates the program, is evidently cowed by the nanny-state canard of food-industry lobbyists. It rejects the idea of such purchase restrictions, and even has refused requests from some states for variances that would allow them to make sodas and such SNAP-ineligible. USDA prefers "incentive-based solutions" and "consumer education"--bootless strategies on their face.
Obesity is a serious economic and health issue that requires solutions--not continued enabling by the very government that then must pay for the obesity epidemic's consequences.
Here's one gross domestic product that we actually want to see shrink.
When former Virginia governor and aspiring U.S. senator Tim Kaine was in our office the other day, we asked him if he would support congressional legislation barring the purchase of sugary drinks with food stamps. "Absolutely," he said.