I’ve already noted how our recent cover story, “Fat of the Land,” gained the notice of the Corn Refiners Association with a letter sure to appear in an upcoming Feedback page in our print edition. But one of the responses I have yet to receive is from various companies promoting wellness initiatives. I know they are out there, and for the most part, they come off as fairly the same. Some kind of incentive program that either pays employees for losing/maintaining weight, or mechanisms that pay for things like fitness clubs. Obviously, this stuff isn’t doing the job because obesity rates are still going up in the United States. (And most everywhere else in the G20, for that matter). My main point with “Fat of the Land” and the blog posts that have followed is that the health insurance industry is living with an $80 billion cost driver every year. Why isn’t the industry attacking this cost driver with a vengeance?
I imagine the wellness companies out there would argue that the industry already is. But here’s the thing. I have had health insurance my whole life. Never have I received any meaningful outreach on obtaining or maintaining good health. Not when I was obese. Not when I was in great shape. Never.
Now, I’m one of those people that exemplify what some feel is the real solution to obesity: personal responsibility. And to that end, I took responsibility for my personal health and decided (along with my family, who all made the same decision) that I would never be fat again. We were not incented by anything more than a desire to be healthy, and to do whatever it took to get that way. Sadly, not everybody has that sense of need, or determination. Some are spurred to action by the desire to avoid something negative sometimes, as I’m sure some folks are quitting sugar (if only for a while) after reading the New York Times magazine’s recent cover story on the toxicity of sugar itself. But even the occasional scare has not proven able to spur our nation out of its steadily heavier collective weight.
The government is not the answer. To quote Ronald Reagan, the scariest words out there are “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Heck, the National School Lunch Program is part of the problem, having longs since outlived its original purpose: to make sure American kids aren’t so underweight that when the next time we need to draft them for a war, they are in fighting shape. (Up to 40% of recruits rejected to fight in WWII were because they were underweight and/or malnourished, having grown up on Depression-era diets.)
The food industry is not the answer. Right after “Fat of the Land” went to press, Denny’s announced it was rolling out a bacon sundae, which just goes to prove that nobody who makes senior-level decisions at Denny’s really eats any of that food. It’s like some low-grade artificial intelligence took two things from separate columns of things people like to eat and mashed them together. I imagine that “bacon sundae” was the third of fourth choice after unmarketable hybrids such as “turkey cereal,” “chocolate chip onions” and “haggis soda.” These are the same people who have been steadily increasing portion size over the last 40 years, and whose dedication to producing quality food is on par with most convention catering companies.
But the insurance industry, that could be an answer, if not the answer. But how?