Professor Tomas Philipson raises some interesting
ideas relating obesity to economics ("Investigations," June/00),
but I must disagree with his conclusion on "incentives," i.e.,
that government should "subsidize physical activity and tax calorie
intake." He's kidding, right? Weight loss might not be "rocket
science," as he says, but if he has all the answers, he should
go into the weight loss industry and make some quick millions.
His statements that people deliberately choose obesity in their
jobs and in their food consumption, but will be thin if they are
wealthy, betray an elitist and uninformed prejudice.
Influences on obesity are social and cultural as
well as economic. Yes, food-industry technology has contributed
to obesity, as have economics, mass advertising, mass transportation,
urban sprawl, centralized shopping, and consolidated schools.
Economics can no doubt provide some answers if it works with technology,
sociology, and physiology. Taxing food is no solution. Neither
do I agree, as the economist claims, that obesity is either "self-limiting"
or a "personal choice." It's not that simple, by any means.