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Omdahl: A new motivation for the obese to skinny up

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With the fat and obese people being the fastest growing group in America, discussion of their condition has become politically incorrect. By that, I mean any politician expecting victory down the road can’t afford to offend this burgeoning group.

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More than one-third of U. S. adults are obese. When they become the majority, the slim will be required to eat carbohydrates. However, we can’t sweep obesity under the rug. It is a major health crisis so we need to weigh in, whether it is politically correct or not.

Obesity is costing $150 billion annually in medical expenses. For individuals, obesity runs $1,500 higher than for those of healthy weight. Taxpayers end up paying a good chunk of the bill.

In North Dakota, 30 per cent have too much body mass, a 250 per cent increase since 1990.

Unless we curb this escalating crisis, my projections suggest that by 2050 there won’t be enough money available in the medical budget for flu shots.

Thus far, every effort to curb obesity has failed.

Prevention: When the government foresaw the growing crisis, it came out with more healthy school lunches — less carbohydrates, more vegetables. Parents and students rebelled. In response, the political budget hawks sided with costly obesity and lobbied for modification of the healthier school menus.

If the kids don’t like healthy government-subsidized lunches, perhaps they should bring their own peanut butter sandwiches to school. That’s what many of us did in the old days. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to subsidize both ends.

- Embarrassment: This hasn’t worked because there aren’t mirrors at grocery check-outs and fast food troughs to deter poor eating habits. Besides, everybody is doing it; obesity is popular and acceptable, so why be embarrassed?

- Fear: Medical research has demonstrated that obese folks are more likely to contract diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some forms of cancer, any one of which will cause them to die prematurely and permanently. But don’t fret. Fat is today; death is tomorrow.

- Patriotism: Some think it’s a patriotic duty to fight for one’s country. However, many volunteers are rejected as too obese, declared 4-F, with the “F” meaning fat. They are too fat to fight and too fat to run. No help in an invasion.

- Religion: The Bible says that a person’s body is the temple of the Holy Spirit so we should honor it. But what good is grace if you can’t be obese?

So where do we go from here? Thus far, nothing has slowed the relentless expansion of obesity. As a last ditch effort, my proposal is to try taxes.

We have used the tax system to foster economic development, to fight urban blight, to help the needy, to encourage charitable giving, ad infinitum. Just about anything can be accomplished with the right tax policy.

Instead of basing taxes on income, we should base it on the Body Mass Index. The tax should be graduated with higher rates falling on those with the highest BMI. A tax graduated in this manner would pay for the higher public costs incurred by the highest BMIs. That would justify it as a benefits-received tax.

Of course, there will be cheating. Some will lose weight temporarily around April 15. Others will buy cheap scales. And there will be intentional reporting errors. But those are routine in all forms of taxation.

This must be accomplished before the obese become the new majority. If they attract just a few additional supporters who are on their way to obesity, the cause will be lost.

Omdahl is a former North Dakota lieutenant governor and a retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email him at ndmatters@q.com.

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