Can Private Solutions Tackle Obesity?

weight scale helpIn my final instalment of commentaries on the right-wing Fraser Institute’s report claiming that obesity is overstated and that Governments may best stay out of trying to tackle this problem (except perhaps to provide treatments to those with more severe obesity), here are the arguments that the report puts forward favouring private solutions.

“First, there is a market test for private solutions where products and services that fail to meet their promises or customer expectations will cease to be provided. This is quite different from government interventions that do not need to meet such a test and thus may continue even if they have failed to produce the desired results in practice. Government interventions may in fact become more stringent and interventionist over time in response to their failings.”

“Second, private companies will continue to innovate and experiment in an effort to best meet the needs and desires of consumers in a cost-effective way. This is very much unlike government interventions, which are often precsriptive and constrain innovation. The result is that private organizations are more likely to find effective and less costly solutions for individuals, and are better able to adjust to changing information and knowledge, and changing consumer preferences over time.”

“Third, private initiatives do not impose a cost on the non-obese generally. This is very much unlike government initiatives that impact both the obese and the non-obese, for example through reduced options/choices, increased travel time, increased costs from taxation, increased costs of goods and services as a result of regulation, or taxpayer-funding of programs.”

While each of the above may carry some merit or are at least worth discussing, the final paragraph in this section reeks of considerable and unacceptable weight bias:

“Finally, and perhaps most critically, 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. They also have strong reasons to drop their excess weight including social stigma, reduced incomes, and the health risks associated with the excess weight. As Marlow and Abdukadirov note, “[the obese] hardly need the government to give them additional incentives to lose weight. People aware of their mistakes also have strong incentives to correct them.”

This rather abhorrently worded paragraph reflect all that is wrong with most public discussions on obesity – irrespective of political ideology – namely the notion that obesity is largely a matter of choice and that excess weight is something people can simply chose to drop if only they so chose by giving up their “mistakes”.

It is in this single paragraph that essentially makes the entire report largely irrelevant, as it is evident that the authors themselves struggle with fully understanding  the actual nature of the problem they are trying to address.

Indeed, the whole tenor of individual “responsibility” interwoven with the language of “shame and blame” shows virtually no understanding of the real causes of the obesity epidemic or of the complex biology that people challenged by this problem face in trying to control their weight.

So, while we may quibble about whether or not the government is the best institution to tackle obesity or not, no meaningful discussion of solutions to the problem are possible unless we go beyond blaming the individuals struggling with this condition.

And certainly, while private enterprise may in some cases provide solutions, given the number of money printing weight-loss scams out there, much of this can certainly be construed as simple exploitation of a vulnerable and desperate population.

If this is what private enterprise is about – count me out.

Edmonton, AB