The Fat Tax and Fitness Incentive Program

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Without question, the Obama plan for improving our national health needs all the help it can get. Candidate Obama campaigned relentlessly on a platform of change, and yet the best he can do is produce the mess he calls “healthcare reform.” Coming on the heels of his stimulus program, it’s no surprise.

Here’s a relatively inexpensive idea that uses nothing more than basic economics and marketing to accomplish what 1,000+ pages of legislation won’t. As bizarre as it may seem at first blush, the simplicity and power of what I’m about to suggest make it worth taking seriously. More often than not, it’s the most straightforward approach that works best.

By and large, we are a nation drowning in our own body fat. We’re addicted to the crap we eat, and can’t seem to help ourselves. The agro-manufacturers and food service retailers feed that addiction because that’s what sells.

In the midst of all this tedious debate about overly complicated healthcare legislation that you just know isn’t going to work even when they finally do pass it, clearer thinkers have pointed out that, if we just weren’t so overweight, we wouldn’t need as much healthcare in the first place.

Okay, I have a suggestion. You know those “weigh stations” you see on the highway that trucks use to confirm the load they’re carrying so they know what to charge and what taxes to pay? Well, we need something like that to provide people with an emotional and financial incentive to hit their healthy target weights and BMI (body mass indexes), and then maintain those levels.

I’m a big believer in the power of pricing to manipulate people’s behavior. To that end, we could tax foods based on their sugar, fat and other adverse content, but that’s administratively messy and doesn’t address the full scope of the problem. No. To be effective, we need to take a more direct approach, one which not only encourages healthier eating, but also fitness, while exciting our collective psyche to resolve the problem of obesity like no other program you’ll ever get out of Washington.

Here’s what I recommend…

(1) Have the Surgeon General provide everyone his or her target weight and BMI.

(2) Require every citizen to make, let’s say, quarterly visits to authorized “weigh stations” – doctors’ offices, clinics and other convenient, responsibly staffed locations – to obtain a chit confirming weight and body mass. These weight checks will be a free service for which medical service providers will be reimbursed by the government.

(3) Send people money – real money like government rebate checks – if they’re improving or maintaining their weight and body mass at their target levels.

(4) And how do we pay for this program? Are you kidding, that’s the genius of it. We pay the people who are losing or maintaining their weight with the Fat Taxes we’re going to levy on people are aren’t.

That’s right. I want to take a Fat Tax right out of their checks: Federal, state and local income taxes, Social Security, and Fat. Why not? Com’on, why not? If you’re going to eat recklessly and be a burden on the rest of us, well then, you need to make up for it by contributing your fair share – by carrying your own weight, as it were. It’s the least you can do. If, on the other hand, you’re doing what you can to lose and control your weight, you deserve to be reimbursed for the savings we’re all going to enjoy from lower healthcare costs. (Fitness incentives could be paid the same way, as a negative Fat Tax that has the effect of reducing total deductions from your pay check.)

How ‘bout them apples? (Notice I said “apples,” not “Cheetos,” or pork rinds.)

Is it the perfect program? Does it have flaws? Are there details we need to work out? Sure, but it’s a creative start in stark contrast to the unimaginative drivel our new President and Congress are producing. How about if, while I’m chewing on this stick of low fat, low cal kosher bacon-flavored turkey jerky, dreaming about my Fat Rebate Check, you think about what I’ve said and get back to me with your comments and suggestions? Think of this as the beginning of the first wiki-government program, by the people, for the people, and what better place to start than with our health. I seriously doubt we can do any worse than the Administration and Congress.

I say we take charge of our national health and kick some serious ass before that ass gets any larger.


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