Fat Chance of Good Health for the Chronically Obese

File / Reuters
File / Reuters

In today’s Fat News, we learned that obese women have a far higher chance of getting seven different cancers than women who are a healthy weight.

Yes, another day, another revelation about how obesity is blighting our nation’s health – and its finances.

Indeed that increased risk of cancer for the obese is a tummy-wobbling 40 per cent, with one in 12 women who get cancer doing so for no reason other than the simple fact that they are fat.

It’s a startling figure – although perhaps not as startling as the figures of some of the people who eat themselves into such life-threatening predicaments.

For most of us, whether you’re naturally stick thin or whether you battle daily to lose that 10 lbs you promised you’d lose by the summer/Christmas/your birthday, the idea of eating yourself into oblivion (quite literally) is incomprehensible.

And yet millions upon millions of our fellow countrymen and women are busy chomping away on pizza, burgers, chips, crisps and cakes in the full knowledge that they are doing just that.

Obesity is now a bigger economic burden on the UK bottom line than war and terrorism, second only to smoking, and costs the country nearly £47bn in NHS care, lost working days and other long term impacts.

As a result, there is plenty of talk by policy makers and politicians about how much obesity costs us all for their diabetes medicine, their heart treatment, their knee and hip replacements, and – as we have just learned – their cancer treatment too.

Unlike getting old, obesity isn’t something that just happens to us, it’s something (for the vast, vast majority) that people choose, and they make that choice every time they open their mouths and stuff another double cheese crust pizza into their gobs.

Yet, despite all the costs they impose on many millions of taxpayers both now and in the future, the obese don’t face any financial penalty for eating the wrong food and too much of it.

Meanwhile, smokers and drinkers are forced to contribute to the cost of their NHS care through huge taxes on cigarettes and alcohol. Indeed, 77 per cent of the price of a packet of cigarettes is now tax, while a few quid from every bottle of wine sold in the UK goes to HM revenue and Customs in tax.

Drinking and smoking are, we’re told, both lifestyle choices that have costs on the rest of society so it is fair to tax those products to pay for those costs.

But while demand is growing for a new Fat Tax on unhealthy foods that are high in fat, or sugar or both, politicians are wary of imposing a food tax that they know will end up hitting the poorest hardest, without necessarily having any impact on their overall weight. Not to mention the fact that it would also hit perfectly healthy people who just fancy a culinary treat after their green bean salad.

It’s just not fair to force obese people to eat less, we are told. Which is strange because apparently it is perfectly fair to expect other taxpayers to cough up the billions it costs the NHS to treat people for all the problems they have after they eat too much.

But with a growing population, and growing waistlines, we have to do something to get people to take personal responsibility for their health.

So, instead of a politically sensitive Fat Tax, why not introduce a far more popular Fit Tax Credit?

Instead of using the stick of a tax on fatty or sugary foods to force the obese to stop doing the wrong thing, why not use the carrot of a tax credit to reward the healthy for doing the right thing?

The healthier your weight, the bigger your tax credit will be.

The scheme would have to be voluntary so no one would be required to reveal any personal health information to the tax man, but all that people would have to do to claim their tax credit is get a certificate from their GP after their annual health check-up confirming that they have a weight-to-height ratio and waist measurement that is within the healthy range.

Yes, of course there will be people, such as Olympic athletes, who don’t fulfil the specific BMI model, but it can’t be beyond the wit of the average GP to tell whether a patient is a big lump of lard or a perfectly normal healthy weight and confirm that in writing.

No one would be punished or forced to change the way they live, but the people who choose not to gorge themselves on a kebab and extra-large chips washed down with a litre of Fanta every day will at long last get a financial reward for doing the right thing.

And, who knows, perhaps this is finally the carrot that might tempt the obese into putting down the pizza and dropping a few stone in return for some cold hard cash.