Sweet and Wide

The past two months have been spent in caring for my mother-in-law.  This has involved living in the Philadelphia area for an extended period, a hectic but pleasant Christmas and more than sufficient time to think about what goes on about us while we are doing “work.”

Here is the first of my observations, with others to follow:

The University of Pennsylvania Hospital has a new pavilion dedicated to dealing with sick people.  The facility, from top to bottom is superb.  Each examining room (on the floor we visited) is equipped with the requisite examining table, a desk area with stool and two chairs.  One chair is of normal size.  The other is 50% larger.

This larger chair started a chain of thought that went something like this…the U of P wouldn’t put in larger chairs unless they were needed, they are needed because people are larger, people are larger because of the quality of health care and nutrition they receive when they are young…no they are larger because they are obese. 

A visual observation of other patients (very non-scientific) reinforced my thought about the obesity issue.  There are a lot of sick, obese people in hospitals today.  Why are they obese?  Too many calories, not enough exercise.

Obesity has become an epidemic, and if not stopped will soon overwhelm our medical system with costs that could be avoided.  Some have called for taking away obese children from parents which they see as a form of child abuse. Certainly there is a precedent for Government action, as the Surgeon General was the power behind attempts to ban smoking.

My recommendation is less draconian and stems from my business background.  Place a significant tax on sugars (all types, cane, corn syrup and anything else that adds empty calories).  This will make high caloric sugar based items more expensive, and the monies raised can be used to offset the increasing costs of medical care.

In the 1700s, all that was available was refined cane sugar.  It was so highly prized that it was kept under lock and key and taxed.  Per capita sugar consumption, along with obesity, Type II diabetes, hypertension and other related medical problems was low.   In the 1700’s the average Englishman consumed about 4lbs of sugar a year.  Today it is estimated that the average American will consume over 150lbs of sugar a year.  I don’t think our bodies have evolved over the past 300 years to accommodate change of this magnitude.

As with all simple recommendations, this one doesn’t stand a chance due to the significant lobbying power of the food producers who will see their profits plummet.  Others will say that it is a regressive tax on the poor, for if they want to eat sugar, it will cost them more as a percentage of their income than the rich. 

To the food producers and lobbyists I ask, how do you sleep at night knowing that you are killing people?  To those concerned about the tax inequality, how much are you willing to be taxed in the future to pay for even higher medical costs?

As you can see, sitting in an extra large chair, with time to think, took me down a path of advocating for significant taxes on sugars.  While this is probably an imperfect solution with unintended consequences, the alternative that is facing us as a nation appears much less palatable.

Your thoughts?


RHM 1/17/2012

PS  Wide seats have a larger impact than just in hospitals: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/16/nyregion/transit-agencies-in-new-york-area-consider-wider-seats.html?


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