Saturday, July 31, 2010

Obesity econ

Worthwhile WSJ op-ed today from U of Chicago's Tomas Philipson and Richard Posner on the basic economics of obesity.  They attribute the obesity epidemic to two forms of technological change: one in agriculture that has greatly lowered the price of food in well-off societies and one in the workplace that has reduced the number of calories needed to subsist.  In a nutshell, we are eating more when we need to be eating less. 

Philipson and Posner think education and food labeling are not going to make much difference.  They also are skeptical about taxes, which would be hard to administer and would have a greater impact on the poor.  They appear to be most optimistic about medical innovation, which would focus on dealing with the side effects of obesity (e.g., diabetes, knee replacements) and less with the problem itself.  They do not mention any role insurance companies might play via increasing deductibles and copays for those with body mass indices beyond a healthy level. 

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