Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Should We Give incentives for the Fat to become Thin?

See also: Tax on fatty foods

Last night I watched an inspirational tv programme "lose 30 stone or die" . It was about a guy, Colin who weighed 48 stone (672 pounds) and was told by his doctors he needed to lose 30 stone or he could die in the next year. He manage to lose 10 stone and then qualified for an operation to have his stomach stapled. With his stomach stapled he was able to continue his weight loss and keep the weight down. By the end of the programme he had achieved his goal of losing 30 stone (although he had a huge amount of skin and fat left over). It would have been interesting to see what happened next.

At one point the NHS said they were not going to pay for the £10,000 operation. The NHS said he was able to lose weight on his own. However, Colin was devastated about this because he worried without the operation is weight could easily go up again.On appeal his family were able to overturn the decision and Colin was given an operation to have his stomach stapled.

Does it Make Sense to Pay for People to Lose Weight?

Many argue, well they are fat because they eat too much - why should the government pay for operations and even worse give them money, when they should solve the problem themselves?

When making a decision like this, we need to work out the economic cost of obesity.

When Colin was 48 stone, he was a burden on the taxpayer. He didn't pay taxes, but received incapacity benefits. After losing 30 stone, he is physically able to get a job and therefore no longer such a burden on the taxpayer. This means the cost of the £10,000 operation can effectively be recovered within 12 months of working. Clearly there is an economic incentive for paying people to have an operation if it means they can keep to a target weight. From an economic point of view, we don't need to worry about whether people deserve an operation or whether there are better operations. If the government can recover the cost of the operation within a short time period it is a good investment for the tax payer. (There are also other costs to take into account; if you are chronically obese, you are more likely to be ill and therefore a drain on NHS)

There have also been some suggestions from the government that fat people should be given monetary benefits as an incentive to lose weight. Should we Give benefits to those who Lose Weight?

This might sound more contentious. After all why should fat people be given money for doing something they should do anyway. However, if it leads to the same kind of economic advantages as mentioned above, maybe it can make sense, even if it doesn't appeal to our sense of fairness and what is right?

Maybe we need a combination of both higher taxes on fatty foods and fiscal incentives for losing weight. The danger is the Government could become a 'nanny state' but the benefits are overcoming the obvious market failure of obesity.

See also:

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