Monday, July 27, 2015

Responsibility and Freedom

The relationship between responsibility and freedom is one I have touched on several times in the past, but this article from the BBC really drives the point home.

It addresses the problem of obesity in the UK, so is not necessarily a good example for discipline problems in the US, although the data are scary and likely typical of 21st Century western attitudes in general.  A study included “278,982 men and women [not a small sample size] between 2004 and 2014 using electronic health records” and did not consider anyone who had weight-loss surgery.  It found that the “chance of returning to a normal weight after becoming obese is only one in 210 for men and one in 124 for women over a year.”

Those odds are outrageously poor, but also it would take an extraordinary effort (and possibly be unhealthy) to reduce from being obese to normal body weight in one year.  On a more realistic side, the chances of losing 5% of body weight over one year were one in 12 for men and one in 10 for women, “although most had regained the weight within five years.”

Now comes the real point and the real shocking viewpoint.  The researchers’ conclusion was that “weight management programmes via their GP were not working for the vast majority” and that “cutting calories and boosting physical activity aren't working for most patients.”  But if eating less and exercising more is not the answer (apparently because people don’t do it), what is?

They conclude that when people are not taking responsibility, the responsibility should be taken away from them.  In their words:  "The greatest opportunity for fighting the obesity epidemic might be in public health policies to prevent it in the first place."  What’s needed, they say is “wider-reaching public health policies to prevent obesity in the population.”

Does this mean something fairly simple, like more sidewalks and bike paths or something far more intrusive and sinister?  What I read is:  people can’t do it on their own so the government (public policy) has to intervene with rules and restrictions telling them what they can and can’t eat, and perhaps mandatory exercise.  “Prevention” implies not allowing certain practices and requiring certain others.  Those with good lifestyle habits will likely be swept up in this enthusiasm to help.  Do they want to require public weigh-ins to qualify to buy certain sweets and soft drinks or would they just take the New York City approach and start banning things?  Does the government charge a premium (or tax) on health insurance as insurers do now for smokers?  There are a bunch of very unpleasant forms this prevention could take as well-meaning people decide that we can’t or won’t take responsibility for our health and that more coercive or restrictive measures are called for.  The words “obesity epidemic” themselves imply a loss of control.  The biggest question is: do we really want to wait around to find out?

Note:  Shortly after writing this short essay, I came across an article asking, for safety reasons, "Should driverless cars be not only legal, but mandatory?"

No comments:

Post a Comment

Click again on the title to add a comment