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No, it doesn't involve coupons or eligibility tests or shorting doctors. It's a simple fix that could make the system self-sustaining in perpetuity, while making Americans healthier and longer-lived.

And it ain't never gonna happen.

Thirty-seven percent of US adults are clinically obese. A fifth of the kids, too. (CDC) 24 million with Type 2 diabetes and another 79 million on the edge. Eight million have gout, and it's unlikely the culprit is kidney pie and port.

Attribution: Science Buddies

No, the villain in our story is the sweetest character, and its ubiquity in our diets is causing obesity--and its health consequences--to explode. In less than a decade, health care costs associated with overweight/obesity have more than doubled, and we have only our chow to blame.

Last month, in a fascinating (and terrifying) article in the New York Times Magazine, The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food, Michael Moss explored the efforts food-processing corporations expend to get consumers to eat and drink more useless calories, predominantly sugar and high fructose corn sweeteners.

When confronted with the irrefutable facts showing the direct consequences of consuming their products at a 1999 meeting, the CEOs of the major food corporations responded with a defiant shrug. Stephen Sanger, head of General Mills, summed up the industry's view:

“Don’t talk to me about nutrition,” he reportedly said, taking on the voice of the typical consumer. “Talk to me about taste, and if this stuff tastes better, don’t run around trying to sell stuff that doesn’t taste good.”
As cynical as the response may seem, Mr. Sanger's position is entirely correct, reflecting both the view of the consumer and the proper role of a chief executive of a corporation, who is responsible solely for maximizing the value of his company to its shareholders.

We cannot expect the corporations that produce our food to go counter to their own interests. Neither can we expect consumers to willingly forego the tasty treats that have been carefully engineered to be crave-worthy.

Like so many instances when the freedoms of individuals and companies infringe on the public good, this is a situation when the federal government has an obligation to all of its citizens to intervene.

Yes, all of its citizens. I, for one, rarely drink soda and the engineered flavors of Doritos make me gag. Yet my contributions to Medicare are being used to care for people who are suffering the health consequences of consuming these products.

The solution should be obvious: a 100% tax on sugar and HFCS, dedicated solely to the Medicare trust fund. Such a tax will not only insure the security of the fund, but, when inevitably passed on to consumers may (I said, "may") cause some to reduce their intake of these poisons, thereby lessening the impact of obesity on citizens and the health care system.

Easy peasy.

Never happen.

Our vaunted "Liberty!" as Americans includes the right to eat yourself into an oversized hospital bed and the right to make gazillions helping others do so. That the consequences of such liberties are born by all seems not to be accounted.

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