I went to a convenience store the other morning, and they had a special on orange juice. You could buy one 12oz bottle for $1.79 or two for $3. I took only one. It contained 12oz of orange juice at a caloric cost of 180 calories. The two bottles would have been too many calories (from sugar) for that early in the morning. I was also getting a tuna sandwich and a serving of string cheese. So I really didn’t want the other bottle. When I got to the checkout counter, the clerk told me about the special and suggested that I get the second bottle. I told him that I really didn’t want it. He pushed, saying that I saved 58 cents if I got both of them. I didn’t budge, and I left with just the one bottle.
I call the 29 cents I didn’t save on the one bottle by buying another bottle the “fit tax.” In essence, I paid that much to not consume 180 extra calories, or about the number of calories I’d burn by walking/jogging 1.5 miles.
As you may or may not know, I’ve struggled with my body weight for a long, long time, especially since college. But I can go out for long jogs (with some running in there, when the zombies start chasing me), and my blood pressure is low, cholesterol under control, and fasting blood sugar is low. Aside from my weight and BMI, I’m reasonably fit. (Though, yes, I’m working to get better.) But it was that BMI measure that made my life insurer not qualify me for additional life insurance. I don’t blame them. The odds are against me if I don’t do something about this weight, and life insurance is basically a bet between me and the insurance company.
I call that loss in life insurance and lack of reduction in insurance rates the “fat tax.”
Of course, there are other costs associated with getting fat, and it is quite expensive to try and lose the weight. While the food that is the most caloric in nature (and not so very nutritional) is cheap, you end up paying for it in the long run. Heavier people have, on average, more health problems, so you pay for those trips to the doctor. Have health insurance? Then you’ll pay with work missed, or with buying prescription and non-prescription medication. You’ll also pay for it if your weight leads you to develop Type 2 diabetes. The low-sugar food you’ll need to eat once that happens is not cheap. Having to buy clothes that are bigger are not cheap. (Even Wal-Mart charges an extra couple of bucks for larger sizes.)
On the other hand, if you’re trying to lose weight or remain at an appropriate weight, you’ll have to pay gym fees, pay more for healthier food (which is less in demand and, thus, more expensive), and, like I did at the convenience store, pay more when you turn down offers for extra food. Yes, there will be savings in health and insurance premiums, and you’ll live long and be healthy and productive.
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t gain weight in an unhealthy way. We’d be at our ideal weight range and nothing more. There wouldn’t be heart disease or diabetes. There wouldn’t be any consequences for eating delicious doughnuts to our hearts’ content. Our daily commutes would be short enough that we could walk to and from work every day, averting the crisis that is going on from not walking. Absent that, the roads would be safe for bicycling to and from work. And, absent that, public transportations would be easily accessible. Healthy food would be in high demand and cheap, while unhealthy food would be more expensive (or even banned, though I prefer the market to take care of it).
But this is not a perfect world, is it? Nevertheless, there is something that I can do about my body and my fitness… Even if I have to pay the taxes involved, and many times fight forces greater than my own.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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