Should taxpayers care about other people's obesity?

In a debate over anti-obesity policy at CentreRight.Com Peter Franklin argued that the problem of obesity cannot be ignored because of "the long-term consequences that will be visited upon the taxpayer for decades to come". Peter Cuthbertson responded that, although he also thought tackling obesity would be great, he didn't think Government intervention stood much chance of success. He also noted that obesity might not cost the taxpayer at all according to new research quoted in the Telegraph.

The new research suggested that the obese actually save health services money as they die earlier and from less lingering diseases than Alzheimer's and Parkinson's - which create far more expense. In response, Peter Franklin argues that "these sort of studies are as selective as they are cynical", "did not take into account the social and economic costs of ill-health in younger people" and even "the Dutch academics who authored the study [in] question admitted that "their research did not look at the total costs of obesity and smoking, just the narrowly-prescribed health costs.""

He has utterly missed the point. If the Dutch academics are right that health costs are not increased by obesity then his original contention that there are consequences that will be visited upon the taxpayer is massively undermined. The social and economic costs that the Dutch academics did not cover are mostly not costs to the taxpayer." Absences from work due to illness and employment difficulties" are important but apart from a pretty marginal effect on economic growth their cost to taxpayers will be minor.

While I'm sure obesity is a very bad thing, thanks to those other costs, if taxpayers aren't going to foot the bill an appeal to their interests should not be used to support government lifestyle interventions.

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