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Eat Now, Pay Later. But Who Is Paying and for What? Police the Potato Chips!

Why, in a time when all we hear is news about the trouble with obesity, are people NOT eating healthy?
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A few weeks ago I was leisurely sitting on the beach with my husband and daughter. A family of 5 was sitting nearby. They organized their beach chairs, got out the kids' shovels and pails, arranged their umbrella and then the mom distributed a bag of chips to each family member. Not the small bags that you get when ordering a sandwich, but the big, full size family bags. Immediately, they each sat down and started chomping away. The Father, Mother and what I perceived to be an Aunt or close family friend and their two little girls, approximately 2 and 6 years old were all obese, not overweight, but morbidly obese. It took all my restraint not to tell the parents that they were setting a very unhealthy example and starting their children on a life of avoidable health consequences.

Why, in a time when all we hear is news about the trouble with obesity, are these people NOT eating healthy? The issue was discussed in a recent article in The New York Times. The article reported that "parents are working longer, and takeout meals have become a default dinner. Gym classes have been cut. The real price of soda has fallen 33 percent over the last three decades. The price of fruit and vegetables has risen more than 40 percent." Our society promotes overeating and obesity and the low price of salty, fatty foods encourages eating unhealthy.

As a physician, I see obese patients and as a radiologist, I am aware of the special issues an obese patient requires for an imaging examination. Larger patients are more difficult to position for their image; there are weight restrictions on x-ray, CT and MR tables limiting certain examinations that may be indicated. The image quality may be compromised during an interventional radiology procedure for the overweight patient and larger needles and advanced imaging may be required. These factors make an otherwise simple examination more difficult, longer and more costly. My concern is less with the adults who choose to eat like there is no tomorrow but with those that overeat and sit around devouring bags of chips both setting a bad example and actually training their youngsters that this behavior is normal and okay. These children may not recognize other eating options until long after poor eating habits are firmly established.

A recent study in the Journal of Health Affairs reported that medical spending on obesity- related conditions is estimated to have reached $147 billion a year in 2008. The Times articles claimed that obese Americans spend about $1,429, 42% more on health care each year than the roughly $3,400 spent on normal-weight Americans. Better education and a mechanism for enforcement is needed. There is a sales tax on cigarettes and smokers pay higher life insurance premiums, liquor is taxed, luxury vehicles are taxed, all of things that are considered excessive cost consumers more money. Perhaps higher insurance premiums should be required for people who choose to be overweight to offset the high cost of healthcare. Maybe the government should consider subsidizing healthy food so unhealthy food could be more expensive than fruits and vegetables. Similar to the "going green" campaign, maybe we can further encourage the "going healthy" campaign and reinforce the health hazard of fats, salts and sugar along with the importance of portion control to our younger generation. "Food for Thought." No Calories.