Fraser Institute doesn’t think obesity is a weighty public concern

The latest study released by the Fraser Institute claims the media and anti-obesity lobbyists have overstated Canada’s obesity problem. Obesity in Canada written by Nadeem Esmail the institute’s director of health policy studies argues obesity is inaccurately measured and except for cases of super-obesity in which an individual’s Body Mass Index (BMI) is above 35 it is arguable whether it’s unhealthy to be overweight. A BMI range of 18 to 25 is generally considered a healthy weight 25 to 30 is classified as overweight and anything above 30 is obese. BMI calculates obesity based on a weight-to-height ratio.

The public policy think-tank’s report aims to make a case against the need for taxpayer-funded weight-loss programs by demonstrating how poor health is not intrinsically linked to weight. The paper also intends to dissuade government support for weight loss and healthy diet policies arguing it’s mainly a private concern.

“Despite claims from public health advocates politicians and media members it’s a myth to say there’s an obesity epidemic in Canada leading to widespread illness and death and that only government intervention can save us from ourselves…. Claims of an obesity epidemic aren’t supported by the available data so policy-makers in Canada should perhaps exercise caution rather than aggressive intervention when considering policy proposals” Esmail said upon the paper’s April 28 release.

However in making a case that the increasing rate of obesity is negligible Esmail only uses Statistics Canada weight-gain data from 2003-2012 focusing on the change in obesity rates between 2009 and the present. Esmail says that within this time frame the obesity rate has been relatively stable.

“The very latest CDC [Centre for Disease Control] study confirmed that in recent years the adult obesity rate has plateaued at worst. Surprisingly perhaps the average American adult’s caloric intake is equivalent to that of a decade ago…. [Also] the Gallup research organization has now confirmed what a plethora of earlier data suggested; that is that the growth in the number of obese Americans may have peaked and may now be on the decline” states the report suggesting it need no longer be a subject of concern.

The report also points out the disproportionate strain obesity puts on the health-care system is less of a concern than it has been made out to be.

“While obese individuals incurred higher health-care costs than normal-weight non-smokers during their lifetimes over an entire lifetime normal-weight non-smokers incurred greater health care costs in total because of differences in life expectancy and the costs of care associated with additional years of life…. That finding is bolstered by considerations of reductions in costs associated with public pensions and other old-age income supports” meaning since obese people are apt to die sooner they are not around to use as many public services.

Furthermore it explains the larger number of obese people in North America has been a boon to related industries.

“The public health insurance externality for obesity [the added public cost of obesity] is roughly the same as the positive innovation externality from obesity which may substantially weaken the justification for intervention.”

Finally the study argues weight loss would be better dealt with by the private sector because “the consequences of excess weight throughout this section finds that the majority of the costs of obesity are borne directly by the individual in terms of lower income reduced employment opportunities reduced enjoyment of life greater illness and a potentially shorter lifespan” and there are already a range of private products aimed at helping people lose weight. However “it is likely that most obese individuals realize they are heavy and that they may be making diet and lifestyle choices that keep them obese.”

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