Most Californians, if they aren’t already fat, probably will be in the next decade or two.
If current trends continue unchanged, at least half the U.S. adult population will be obese by 2030, according to a recent survey conducted by Columbia University and Harvard University researchers. Obesity rates in California have more than doubled since 1990. More than 20% of the state’s adults now are considered obese, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.
California isn’t alone.
In addition to each of the U.S. states, many of the world’s nations are getting fatter as well. Obesity is becoming a problem in low- and middle-income countries, according to the World Health Organization’s Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention. The United Nations’ first high-level meeting on non-communicable diseases is scheduled for this month, and researchers say obesity should be high on the agenda.
“Governments certainly need to lead obesity prevention, but so far, few have shown any leadership,” said Steven Gortmaker, professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and co-author of an obesity report published in theÂ journalÂ Lancet last month.
In addition to the personal costs of increased chances of chronic health problems, obesity carries a substantial monetary toll. In 2009, California’s obesity-related medical costs were $15.2 billion — the highest in the country –Â according to researchers.
Some California companies and communities have embraced parts of a national campaign to promote healthy eating habits and exercise.
Earlier this year, a proposed soda tax effectively fizzled out in the California Legislature. AB 669 by Assembly member Bill Monning (D-Carmel)Â proposed a one-cent tax for each ounce of sweetened beverage sold in California. The money would have been used to promote healthy habits for kids.
Some health advocates contend that incentives for adopting healthy lifestyles — similar to incentives for not smoking tobacco — could help turn the tide.
What should California do? At the most basic level, there are three courses of action:
- Educate people about the hazards of obesity and hope they make good choices;
- Punish bad behavior through taxes or other punitive measures; or
- Reward good behavior through reduced insurance premiums or other incentives for making healthy choices.
We asked legislators, policy analysts and other stakeholders which course California should pursue? All of them? How? When?
We got responses from: