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Trimming the Financial Fat: Why Changing our Personal Relationship with Food is Important to All

We all have to make difficult choices about what we eat in an environment overflowing with poor options, misinformation and conflicting interests. Our American custom of seeking the cheap and convenient has sadly turned us into an obese, diseased, lethargic nation.

Like lingering heartburn after a fast food binge, our country is dazed and confused in the face of soaring health care costs and diminished worker performance, as we wonder why we ever chose to put bad things in our bodies in the first place. While we’ve been gorging ourselves on subsidized corn, chemicals and cramped livestock, we should have taken the time to recognize that cheap food is a large problem—and will cost us dearly in the long run.Your food choices affect more than your own personal health.

Your personal decision to consume foods high in sugars, trans-fats, and non-nutritional calories has costly effects for all Californians. Poor diet can lead to obesity and diabetes, which incurs high health care costs and losses in productivity.

According to the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, the social costs attributable to a growing population of obese, diabetic, and inactive persons amounted to $41 billion in 2006 alone. Specifically, society as a whole loses out on the work productivity from more sick individuals need paid and unpaid sick leave, absenteeism, and premature death.

Additionally, treating risk factors resulting from obesity and diabetes drive up health care costs for both private and public health through higher private insurance premiums and higher government expenditures for Medicare and Medicaid. As more and more of us become clinically obese, diabetic and miss out on work, the heavier the financial burden for paying taxes to support social health programs.

If this behavior continues, experts estimate that by 2023 California will be treating a population of four million for avoidable diseases at a cost of $19 billion in medical expenses, with an additional $100 million in lost productivity; all this for a financially unsustainable state facing a deficit of roughly 26 billion dollars.

Choosing healthy options, though, is not easy.  We are faced with constant advertisements tempting us to buy unhealthy, quick, and cheap meals on the go, to match our hectic (yet sedentary) lives.

For those of us who have the privilege to exercise choice, we must increase the demand for nutritional food through our daily consumption.  This shift will signal to companies that we want healthy food at fair prices.

So, the next time you find yourself choosing between a seemingly convenient candy bar and a piece of fruit, think about the larger costs associated with that choice.  Instead of anticipating the taste of chocolate and nougat hitting your lips, anticipate the feeling of cash leaving your pocket to pay for your medication or operation.  Think about asking your neighbor to pay for your next medical bill.

Choose the fruit, and together we can begin to increase the demand for healthy food at fair prices.

Jill Nevins

Jill Nevins is a California native who recently graduated from UC Davis with a degree in International Affairs. She currently is working toward her MPP at Mills and her policy areas of interest include education, health, and the California prison system. She also really likes cats.

Kim Kerry-Tyerman

Kim Kerry-Tyerman is a world traveler who has lived in various places across Europe and the United States. Before attending Mills MPP program she received her bachelors from Occidental College. Kim’s focus on international economic development is her primary policy area of expertise.

Rose Sutton is from Arizona and is currently enrolled in the MPP program at Mills College. Being from Arizona she has an interest in immigration policy and local government fiscal policy. She is originally from Venezuela and enjoys sailing.

These three writers have collaborated on this article as an assignment for their public policy class.