Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Healthy living and the economy

Inspired by a recent visit to the fantastically written, yet hardline Three Piece Suite blog, I started to think a little more deeply about the impact of obesity on the economy, and where the boundaries of government responsibility lay.

If obesity is genuinely a drain on the economy, governments need to make it less financially viable to be fat. More to the point, they also need to introduce measures that make healthy food and exercise profitable to the producer, and cost-effective and enjoyable for the consumer.

(For a more detailed and high-end argument along these lines, albeit using free markets to address the grander vision of our impact on the environment, check out the Ethical Man blog.)

Right now, cigarettes are highly taxed, and alcohol looks to be following suit. So perhaps it is only a matter of time before unhealthy eating is in line with other vices. This is actually good news for those with a healthy appetite - we can incentivise healthy food and gyms in a way we can't do with cigarettes or drink.

I make an assumption in all this that we are now beyond the tipping point, where the cost to the economy of our consumption is greater than the revenue it generates (perhaps an economist could help solve this puzzle). But in any case, the hit, if any, must be driven by legislation, and taken on by industry. Consumers can't be expected to make the right choices if there's an easier and cheaper alternative. I don't particularly want a car, but until bicycles, buses, trains, electric cars, or hover boards become a sensible option, I'll keep driving. Plus, everyone else will still have their cars, so what difference does it make if I ditch the Daihatsu Charade? I lose, but no one gains.

There are plenty of people who don't need market forces to lead a healthy life, myself included. And there are plenty of people who make the right environmental choices, for the greater good. So perhaps the answer is in education first, incentives second.

You can see the original article here.

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