The Crisis Obama is Wasting

Last week the public was treated to intimations from the Obama administration that it seeks to use the global financial crisis as an opportunity for furthering its policy aims.  Bush did the same after 9/11, the liberal pundits say, and this is normal political parsimony.  Whether or not you agree with these statements depends on which crisis you think is worse: the global financial meltdown or the socializing of America. 

There is another crisis with potential currency in this country, and it might be one we can all agree on.  We have all watched and gasped at it growing steadily.  It's healthcare-related and it, surprisingly, is being wasted by Obama.  I am of course referring to our nation's obesity epidemic.

Most Americans will concede that the rising rate of obesity is one of our nation's biggest challenges.  Obesity is responsible for increasing health care costs, lost productivity, and even higher fuel consumption.  It originally affected disproportionate numbers of low income Americans, but now seems to be growing fastest with the upper class.  Previous efforts to de-pork America have recognized the role environment plays in health and weight.  Few have admitted that weight is an economic decision more and more of us are handling the same way.  Make no mistake; the answer to our nation's addiction to cheap calories will come from our new government-based economy.  This could be our moment.  Here's why. 

The Obama campaign promise of "Change" was redolent of nothing as much as our country's current obsession with reality TV makeover shows.  Nanny 911, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and What Not to Wear are examples of many popular shows that provide lucky participants with new families, new houses, and new wardrobes, respectively.  This kind of change is glamorous, self-involved and always accomplished at someone else's expense.  What could have been more fabulous than electing a telegenic young president to make-over our country?  Poof.  It worked.

Now we are on the hard road to an enlightened, fairness-based society.  Economic incentives must be reset; priorities, realigned.  The Dow, however, seems unwilling to shoulder these burdens alone.  Rumors of a call for a second stimulus bill are beginning to trickle up from Washington, but a popular solution to our economic problems has been has been staring us in the face for the past seven television seasons.  We must nationalize The Biggest Loser, NBC's weight loss reality show, because we have become too big to carry on, and it, well, seems to work.  Call it stimulus or call it an investment in our nation's future, government must pay Americans to lose weight. 

On the hit television show, contestants exercise up to 8 hours a day in a race to see who can lose the most weight.  The grand prize winner takes home $250,000 courtesy of show sponsor, Jello.  That comes to $1706.50 per pound on average for the past seven seasons.  A little excessive for a national healthcare program?  No worries, there exists a variation on the theme.  Winners of The Biggest Loser's $100,000 at-home round have averaged $693.00 a pound before taxes.  These are the winners who were eliminated from competing for the Jello prize, but went on to clean up the consolation round.

Assuming a 28% marginal tax rate for the $100,000 prize (we're not talking income, but government transfer) the average weight loss comes to $498.96 per pound.  According to a 2007 Gallup Poll the average American carries an extra 17 pounds.  If we peg the value of a pound lost to the Biggest Loser's $100,000 prize after tax exchange rate that comes to $8500 per person.  Using US Census projections for 2010 (and excluding children under 5 and adults over 65), 248,894,000 potential participants remain.  4,231,198,000 excess pounds at $500 per pounds comes to a little over $2.1 trillion.  Pocket change to Washington if not to the makers of Jello.

Would it work as stimulus?  Does it matter?  At 3500 calories per pound, fat is our nation's largest untapped energy source. 


  • A precipitous decline in fast food and cigarette consumption.
  • Less time spent playing video games other than Wii Fit.
  • Carbon credits for taking the stairs or riding your bike to work.
  • Hundreds of thousands of people off blood pressure and diabetes medication.
  • Every American checking in with a government appointed doctor on a weekly basis.
  • Improved self-esteem.
  • A new White House blog.

As the synthesis of state health care, green technology, and transparency, paying Americans to lose weight would appear to be the Obama administration's manifest destiny.  Of course, there are some tricky details to work out.  Where would the money come from?  Should payment be contingent on keeping the weight off?  Those decisions are best left to Congress. 

There would be some stimulative effects to the economy.  After all, we dieters would need new wardrobes and gym memberships and spa treatments to celebrate all those weight-loss milestones.  We would buy lots of arugula.  More American women would finally be able to go sleeveless.

If it sounds too good to be true, it's probably not.  Our new economy seems to be evolving beyond the old-fashioned idea of trade-offs.  We can eat our cake and get paid to work it off too.  The only people this plan would hurt are 1) professional athletes and 2) those who have previously lost lots of weight.  They must adjust to our new era of responsibility. 

President Obama, call me.  I also have a plan to get more Americans to brush and floss their teeth.