Monday, May 12, 2014

Your Health and Mine

These thoughts are inspired by a couple of letters to the editor in my local newspaper.  I always try to provide a link to my sources to allow readers to verify the information.  Unfortunately, that newspaper has chosen not to share articles with non-subscribers, so I will summarize the content without a direct link to the original.

The first letter appeared on May 2 and complained about what seemed to the writer to be a proliferation of fat people in the community.  After describing herself and her husband as being “very careful about our diets,” working out regularly and dining out rarely, the writer complained about people she observed during one of their rare dining-out experiences.  She noticed, “with the exception of about six people, everyone who came and went was obese” and “literally waddled when walking.”  The rest of the comments were rather insulting, accusing “many of these waddlers” of being “self-centered gluttons,” raising obese kids and “making the rest of us pay for your medical bills.”

As expected, four days later came the response from a self-proclaimed proud “waddler” lashing out at the first writer’s narrow-minded and judgmental view of the obese.  “We are one of the last groups that you can still deride, criticize and pass judgment on, yet not cross the line of being politically incorrect.” This was followed by the expected angry and sarcastic remarks and concluding, “ thinness be damned.”  I guess he told her!

From a behavioral standpoint both these parties are out of line.  Name-calling does not solve anything.  However, the first person did make one good point at the end of her rant.  Your personal health and mine are no longer private matters.

As the Affordable Care Act was being implemented and the sign-up period was drawing to a close, there was some concern about the number of young people signing up.  No one made a secret of the fact that the young (and presumably healthier) were expected to subsidize the old and the sick.  This was crucial to assure low rates for everyone.  (It’s comparable to safe drivers being charged more so that reckless drivers have lower insurance premiums.)  That’s the way the system is set up.  People who lead healthy lifestyles and remain healthy subsidize those who make other choices or are genetically predisposed to illness.  (People who lead unhealthy lifestyles and luckily remain healthy do the same, but the likelihood of this is far less.)  So it is in the interest of everyone that they themselves and everyone else make good choices and make every effort to remain healthy from a financial point of view as well as a quality of life point of view.  The more who do so, the better off we all are.  This applies not only to obesity, but to smoking, seatbelt use, alcohol and drug abuse, and other risky behaviors.

Despite what “fat pride" or “fat acceptance” groups claim, these choices are not made in isolation and in a sense are not our own business.  The choices of individuals contribute to the overall healthcare bill, and we all share in that cost.

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