Obamacare to the Rescue: The End of American Obesity?

Before taking the Health Reform quiz, I assumed I would only get 2-3 correct out of the 10 questions because the PPACA seems like a very intricate overhaul of our healthcare system. However, I know the basics of the act and the questions in the quiz were pretty straightforward–I got 9 out of 10 correct by asking myself: does this answer match up with the goal of Obamacare? Which, in my opinion, is to give people easier access to healthcare.

One thing that pleasantly surprised me about the act is it: “Require[s] chain restaurants and food sold from vending machines to disclose the nutritional content of each item.” I was so excited to read that this would be a new regulation–fast food restaurants and chain restaurants are big contributors to the obesity epidemic in America.  After reading more into this, it is clear that there are some major problems that may arise from this regulation. The FDA plays a big role in carrying out the regulations that the act lays out and it will be interesting to see what regulations will be carried out. The new menus mandated by Obamacare will cost an estimated $42 million per year, and the initial mean cost of complying with the proposed regulations is $315.1 million. In addition, according  to an article written by the National Center for Policy Analysis, “the unnecessarily burdensome menu labeling rule is going to impose a billion dollar burden on retailers. In an industry operating on a 1 percent profit margin, this financial load will mean the loss of jobs and an unnecessary increase to consumers’ grocery bill.” In order to remain successful, these restaurants are going to have to start offering healthier products. However, it will be interesting to see if consumers eat less Big Macs or if they begin to demand healthier products. All in all, I think this reform is necessary. Instead of restaurants selling cheap, highly unhealthy products, they will most likely start to slowly sell healthier products. I’m sure McDonald’s will continue to make a killing with their Big Mac but this regulation is a good start to ending obesity in America.


15 comments on “Obamacare to the Rescue: The End of American Obesity?

  1. All this will do is make it more difficult for small restaurants to compete with McDonald’s. McDonald’s will only serve what people want to eat. It’s that simple. It’s shocking how little Americans understand about the Law of Demand.

    We need to remind Americans the dangers of experimental legislation. Sadly, you think it’s a good idea to to harm the local organic vegan restaurant.

  2. McDondald’s 2012 profit was 5.47 billion.

    The NCPA says this about itself: “Our goal is to develop and promote private, free-market alternatives to government regulation and control, solving problems by relying on the strength of the competitive, entrepreneurial
    private sector.”

  3. I got a little crazy about this topic…

    Saw this little bit on Huffingtonpost about how the low wage practices of fast food places make us all pay.

    Started wondering…

    If you figure about 90 million tax-paying households in the US (not counting those that pay no federal tax OR payroll tax), and 1.2 billion in McDonald’s cost to taxpayers in the form of social safety net programs we pay for people who are WORKING afterall, then it was $13 per household. I am basically giving about $13 a year to McDonald’s workers because the menu prices don’t reflect what it costs to pay a decent wage.

    Meanwhile, and this is rougher as I couldn’t find US-only net income for McD’s, but if it paid all 700,000 workers $1 more (and that number probably includes the manager level and up), then it’s total net income would be 5.469 billion dollars instead of 5.47.

    number of us households 114,800,000
    rough % who pay not federal or payroll tax 22,960,000
    Who do 91,840,000
    Subsidies for Mc D workforce 1,200,000,000
    per household 13.06620209
    Mc Donalds workforce 707850
    profit 5,470,000,000
    proft hit from payin $1 more 5,469,292,150

    Not definitive proof of anything, but suggestive.

  4. I think that this is a very interesting idea that you have brought up here. I appreciated your research about the cost of a regulation such as this. But, let’s think about the potential benefits of this. A healthier, less fat United States, undeniably will decrease our healthcare costs on a mass scale because we won’t have as many problems that come with obesity. I think that there really isn’t a ceiling for the influence that this could have for a healthier American future. The one thing that I wonder is if Americans will actually care. Will we take the time to read nutrition facts….I don’t think we will. We will continue to eat the way we have at least initially. Although I believe that there is a lot of potential here, that the effectiveness lies American’s actually caring about their bodies…and that is a much more social change than a nutrition facts packaging change can promote.

    • I appreciate the sentiment of the labeling too- more information can’t be that hard to provide.

      However, I am also skeptical it will matter much. I think behavior is shaped by cues, by identity, and by emotional factors. I think the research shows that greasy, salty, sweet foods are just really hard-wired into our brains to get us to gulp them down. We gulp, they profit. At some level, a basic model of human behavior at work with more information is something like this: people act in their rational interests, so when presented with good information, they will assess it and then make the right choice. We are only sometimes partially that way.

      So, to really get at obesity, we will need a much FATTER set of responses than just labeling. And while we are at it, how about some labeling more likely to effect behavior. Like, one that says, this hamburger or milkshake is like 1/3rd of the calories a normal adult needs a day. Or, like, eating this means you need to run 4 miles to burn off those calories…

      • How hard would it be for a mom and pop restaurant to determine the nutritional content of their food? I have no idea how capital/labor intensive this process is.

    • I completely agree with you Matt. I walk into the Bison everyday with massive goals of eating a nice healthy salad with fruit and water and yet I somehow find myself walking back to my table with a nice soda and chicken fingers far too often. As an athlete Im very aware of the foods I eat and the effects of those foods on my health and body and even I sometimes struggle to make the right choices. I think you’re right that Americans need to care to make real change. I will say however that walking into a sandwich store and seeing a delicious sub with 1,300 calories definitely dampers my appetite and turns my eye towards the salad aisle.

      • Everyone has cravings that may be more influential than the presence of nutrition facts. With that said, I when I used to buy muffins from the bison, I did read the nutrition facts and found out that they make two types of muffins: one ranges from 500-600 calories, the other 200-300. This information has altered my eating habits.

  5. I don’t know where that thinktank gets 1% margins in retail…. retail grocery maybe. Not fast food. Certainly not retail clothes.

    Plus, a cost born by the WHOLE sector will just get passed on to consumers. Hence the 1% margin will be unaffected. Sloppy analysis is annoying, if that is the case here.

    • I too was a little startled by this 1% figure. Clearly the fast food restaurants have been operating on a much higher margin than this. As you say earlier, McDonald’s certainly has the money to comply with this regulation. I recently read an article in TIME that showed that profit margins for the general fast food industry have been increasing over the past 5 years and are now up to around 5%. This change would be a good one for Americans in general.

  6. I see several establishments in my community, Knoxville TN, voluntarily labeling.
    And most grocery store food is completely labeled. When this change first
    came about I remember many saying it would cost too much, couldn’t make
    a difference. But it has made a difference. Many people read those labels
    and make decisions accordingly, especially when we are aware of a strong
    health need of our own.
    And I remember how they said you wouldn’t get people to stop smoking.
    Tremendous strides in that area.

    So I think it takes time, and we take small steps. And then look back and
    realize we have come a long way.

    And other social changes — racial and sexual orientation. Changes here — not
    as much or as fast as we would like, but they are happening. I am old enough
    to remember the early days of women’s lib.

    You social scientists: isn’t the way of social change usually small changes
    preceding a giant leap?


    • I think there are several rhythms of social change.

      One is incremental up to a tipping point, as you describe.

      Another is counter-reactions or counter-revolutions.

      A third is surging unease with a bigger explosion.

    • I agree…since people will have the facts to make the decision (how many calories are in that slice of pizza) they might still eat the pizza but they will feel more guilty and maybe eat pizza less. The only thing is, people will not stop demanding food to be fast and easy to eat on the go…I know that I often don’t have time to sit down for lunch so I want to eat something quick and easy, more often than not it isn’t a healthy meal…will people start to demand healthier fast food?

  7. If I’m not mistaken, McDonald’s voluntarily posted nutritional information a few years before legislation was passed requiring them to do so. Personally, I don’t think the law will change eating habits significantly in the case of McDonald’s, as most people don’t go there to eat healthy food.

    • I agree Jason, people do not go to McDonald’s if they are on a diet and want to change their eating habits. The speed of service and tastiness of the food is what draws the customers and keeps them coming. Knowing nutritional facts is not going to alter the consumer base as drastically as one would think.

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