Maggie Gallagher

How do we trim health care costs? Weighing in on the national debate, a new study in the journal Health Affairs urges: Fight fat by fighting fat.

An obese person spends $1,400 more in medical expense per year than normal-weight people, and obesity-related diseases cost this nation anywhere from $86 billion to $147 billion per year. "Real (health care) savings are more likely to be achieved through reforms that reduce the prevalence of obesity and related risk factors," the study's scholars conclude.

Addressing "poor diet and inactivity," they say, will require "policy and environmental changes that extend far beyond what can be achieved through changes in health care financing and delivery."

Federally funded fat-fighters! Congressional greengrocers in the inner city! Taxpayer-subsidized gym clubs and personal trainers! Surgeon general warnings on Twinkies! The mind boggles.

The statistics they have marshaled are impressive. The debate they have stirred so far is less so.

The problem from a public health perspective is that there is very little evidence that any of these weight-loss strategies (taxing fat, funding nutrition programs and/or exhorting fat people) work.

The most successful scientifically validated weight-loss programs find that a year or two later, almost all the patients are fatter -- just not as fat as the patients not in the program.

Scour the evidence. More people each year kick heroin addictions than keep 50 pounds of fat off their bodies for five years. I'm not saying we chubby folk are not personally responsible. I happen to believe that gluttony is a sin. I'm just saying, "Don't spend my tax dollars on strategies that aren't going to work." We shouldn't have to pay both for the cost of obesity and the cost of failed obesity-fighting programs.

But here's the good news. We do have a silver bullet when it comes to fighting fat. It's called Lap-Band surgery -- a brilliant scientific advance that amounts to putting a big rubber band around the stomach, which is tightened with saline. Genius!

Patients lose about half their excess weight, on average, and (unlike more drastic gastric bypass surgery) have almost no serious risk of complications. Bariatric surgery -- which includes the Lap-Band procedure -- also cures three-quarters of patients with type 2 diabetes.


Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.