Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Health Coverage Does Not Make You Fat

Wow, as we wrestle with this healthcare insurance reform thing, a lot of bullshit is seeping up through the floorboards.

The latest one being passed around in media circles is this bogus "health coverage makes you fat” study:
According to the study, health-care coverage literally encourages obesity, because people tend to become less careful about weight-gain when they know that insurance will cover at least some of the weight-related health costs in which they may incur.

Let me be the first to call bullshit on that one.

Let’s imagine someone at the grocery store trying to feed their family on a time and money budget. As they go down the aisles, are they thinking about their health insurance policy? Or are they thinking about the buy-three-get-one-free coupon for Kraft Macaroni and Cheese they clipped out of the paper that morning? Are they thinking that a head of broccoli costs $1.50 and is only part of a meal whereas you can pop a bowl of Chef Boyardee lasagna in the microwave and you’ve got dinner.

Or let’s say you’ve got an hour lunch break, during which time you’ve got to swing by the bank, pick up the dry cleaning, pick up your prescription at the drugstore, maybe make some personal phone calls your boss won’t let you do at your desk. As you swing through the Wendy’s drive-thru, are you thinking about your insurance policy or are you thinking about how fast you can inhale your lunch so you can get back to your to-do list?

I’m really not thinking that insurance plays into people’s food and lifestyle choices. At all. Here's a study for you: a ban on fast food advertising during children's TV programming could reduce childhood obesity by 18% according to a study last year by the National Bureau of Economic Research--the same folks who released the "health coverage makes you fat" research.

But let’s get back to insurance and obesity:

Though the study found weak evidence that more generous insurance encourages greater weight gain, or that risk-adjusted premiums discourage it, there was “strong” statistical evidence that being insured increases body mass index and obesity. So, will expanding health-care coverage to drive up U.S. obesity rates to new record-setting heights?
So even though people with generous insurance plans are not more obese than people with limited insurance plans, they still have found ”strong” statistical evidence that health coverage leads to obesity. Really? I wonder what else these people had in common. Jobs? Married? Kids? Did they own cars? Have blue eyes and brown hair?

Did they look at France, with its universal health care and low obesity rates, despite a diet rich in butter fat? No.

Did they look at America’s poorest citizens, who also tend to have the highest rates of obesity, yet also make up the ranks of the uninsured? No.

This whole argument just plays into the right wingers’ “personal responsibility” meme: if only you lazy lardasses would quit shoving Twinkies and KFC down your gullets, the rest of us wouldn’t have to pay through the nose for our health insurance. Once again, it’s blame everyone else except a system that is stacked against the people who need our help the most.

Obesity is a huge problem in America and yes, it has added tremendously to our healthcare costs. There are a lot of reasons for the obesity epidemic but no, I don’t think health insurance is one of them.