Forget a "Fat Tax." Tax the Fat.

11/11/2009 04:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • John Ridley Emmy-Winning Commentator and Writer for Esquire

A thought as the health care debate reignites. I promise you I'm not trying to malign fat people, or the weight challenged or Hefty Americans. Trying not to malign them, mostly because there are so many of them. Obese people in America now outnumber the merely fat. The National Center for Health Statistics reported this year that more than 34 percent of Americans are obese, compared to 32.7 percent who are "just" overweight. Just under 6 percent are "extremely" obese. The bottom line is that we're a slovenly lot and getting more so by the year.

The financial hit on health care is pretty staggering. A study by the Center for Disease Control released at their first ever "Fat Summit" in July finds:

The prevalence of obesity rose 37% between 1998 and 2006, and medical costs climbed to about 9.1% of all U.S. medical costs.

Obese people spent 42% more than people of normal weight on medical costs in 2006.

With all the talk -- and screaming and gun-toting -- that's going on around the health care reform debate, maybe the answer as to how to pay for it is orbiting our ever-expanding guts.

A tax on the fat. If you're out of shape, you've got to carry your weight, so to speak. Why tax, after all, the purveyors of junk food as we have cigarette manufactures? While there's no such thing as a safe cigarette, a cheat day full of Whoppers, Jolt cola and Doritos won't kill you. For those who want the Feds to "keep their Government hands off my medicare," this hits them directly in the organ of self-reliance. Except for a true sliver of individuals with medical conditions -- who would be opted out (and not by a death panel) -- obesity is a lifestyle choice. Yes, it's hard to stay in shape, but it's also hard to raise kids. That doesn't mean you get to drop them off at your local fire station when they get to be a handful.

For those who say there's no standard for determining obesity, there is.

And for those who say that taxing the fat isn't fair, I say: how fair is it that healthy people are subsidizing the lifestyles of the fat? The CDC estimates the medical costs of obesity had risen to $147 billion per year by 2008. Writing in the New York Times, David Leonhardt breaks that down to $1,250 per American household, mostly in taxes and insurance premiums.

That's three times the cost of an annual membership at a gym I recently joined in Manhattan. Why am I paying that so somebody else can squat on their hind end?

The odds of any elected official actually raising this logical solution to the health-care problem? You thought there was some yelling going on before at town hall meetings. Wait until lazy Americans have to take responsibility for their expanded state.