Obesity: Agriculture's Ultimate Externality?
by Greg Plotkin
Published February 17, 2010 @ 01:01AM PT
When strolling through the aisles of the grocery store, most consumers have no idea that they are paying a far greater price for their Coca-Cola and Doritos than what their check-out total may lead them to believe.
These hidden and often unanticipated costs -- known as externalities in economic terms -- are not reflected in a product's purchase price but are instead passed along in the form of environmental impacts or health care costs that someone else must eventually pay.
Perhaps more than any other business sector, the agriculture industry has become an expert at making cheap food and externalizing its costs. For example, the widespread development of coastal "dead zones," is an external cost associated with the over-application of fertilizers and pesticides. These dead zones haven't made our food -- agriculture's end product -- any more expensive, but they have destroyed fisheries all over the world and cost many fishermen their livelihoods.
So while many Americans get to enjoy an endless supply of cheap calories, these may end up resulting in the greatest -- and ultimately, most expensive -- agricultural externality of them all: obesity.
The most recent estimates predict that if Americans continue to grow at their current rate, obesity will cost U.S. taxpayers nearly $350 billion a year, consuming an astonishing 21% of the country's total health care spending.
We can either continue to pass the true cost of our unhealthy diets onto our future selves, or we can begin to realize that paying a little bit more for healthy food now is the best way to cut down on the health care costs we pay later in life.
There's a saying that you can either choose to pay your farmers now, or your doctors later. Who would you rather pay?