Nanny State or Sound Health Policy?

Can government policies reverse the obesity epidemic? Or do such policies just provide examples of a nanny state over-reaching in futility? In a comprehensive report on obesity, The Economist suggests caution is in order. Everyone agrees the problem of obesity needs to be addressed. But we have little evidence for successful  broad scale interventions. That hasn’t stopped countries, cities and employers from trying a range of approaches.

Employers in Japan must provide the waist circumference of all employees ages 40-74 and are fined for the number that exceed certain levels. Safeway, a U.S. grocer, gives employees who maintain a normal weight a discount on their health insurance. Under the rules of the Affordable Care Act, many restaurants in the U.S. will be required to show the calories of each menu selection. Abu Dhabi has made changes to make sidewalks more attractive. Brazil offers free exercise classes for its citizens. New York City will implement a limit on the size of sugary fountain drinks beginning in March. France is considering a tax on sugary drinks, but Denmark recently scrapped a one-year tax on saturated fat as being too complex to implement.

Experts say the best approach will have to be many-faceted because obesity is such a complex disease, and should include frequent prompts toward better behavior, called “nudges,” rather than penalties.

Click here to read the Economist special report on obesity.