Thanks, McDonald’s: Obesity is Killing America’s Economic Competitiveness by Ballooning Health Care Costs

So says Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup and author of The Coming Jobs War. In an interview at Gallup’s Management Journal, he tags obesity and fruitless late-life interventions as the two chief reasons that Americans spend so much more than other countries on health care (2.5 trillion dollars every year):

[O]besity is at epidemic rates, and so are the problems it causes, like diabetes. Second, we spend enormous amounts of money with no limits or caps on our last six months of life. Seventy percent of the money we spend on healthcare in the U.S. is on things that are preventable.

What does this mean for American competitiveness? Here’s Clifton again:

It is impossible for the U.S. to win the race for new good jobs while the country continues its failed strategies for healthcare. Astronomical healthcare costs end America’s race to re-win the future. The United States has to fix this or it shuts off the energy switch to entrepreneurship and innovation. If this happens, everything else ceases to matter. […]

The problem with healthcare costs is that they’re accelerating: They’ll grow from $2.5 trillion to $4.5 trillion within 10 years because they’re growing at about 6% a year. So if we can’t get that fixed, organizations won’t be lean enough to grow or to do other things they need to do, like export. Healthcare costs have become the biggest problem that companies have — or cities, counties, states, and the federal government. Nobody can afford healthcare. This is the biggest barrier to job creation that America has.

The irony here is that half of the jobs created this past month in America were of the burger-flipping variety!

You think I’m joking? It’s literally true. Here’s part of what Mark Gongloff and Bonnie Kavoussi, at the Huffington Post, had to say on April 6th about the lackluster employment numbers reported for March (120,000 new jobs). Note the disproportionate role of restaurants in employment growth:

The economy has created 1.2 million nonfarm payroll jobs in the past six months — great news.

But nearly 668,000 of those jobs — more than 55 percent — have been created in the retail, temp, “health care and social assistance” and “leisure and hospitality” sectors, notes [economist Joseph] Brusuelas.

These sectors account for only 29 percent of the total labor force, he adds, meaning that they take up a small portion of the economy, but are having an outsize effect on job growth.

That’s likely to continue. The restaurant sector, for example, is expected to hire more than 400,000 people this summer, MSNBC’s Economy Watch blog reported this week: “For all you foodies hoping to land a gig in the glamorous restaurant industry in the months and years ahead, there will be plenty of jobs to be had. The problem is, many of the jobs don’t come with a glamorous paycheck.”

Translation: our very form of employment growth in America is an artifact of people’s bad eating habits, which drives up health care costs and so threatens other sectors of the economy.

Imagine the politics of this. No mainstream politician, to curb unhealthy forms of consumption, would dare propose, say, a food or restaurant tax.

Americans, therefore, will eat their cake, spend what money they have, and simply die when they die, with or without healthcare, and so “decrease the surplus population” (in Scrooge’s infamous words).

That’s what government non-interference, in this instance, means. Are we all O.K. with this? Is this the price of freedom?

It will be interesting to see how this year’s election plays out, because it’s precisely issues of this sort that people will be voting on. More government or less?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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9 Responses to Thanks, McDonald’s: Obesity is Killing America’s Economic Competitiveness by Ballooning Health Care Costs

  1. tlbflowllc says:

    Great post! I’ve found our ineptitude as a society to reverse the obesity epidemic and its subsequent ramifications to be fascinating. For whatever reason, we can send a man to the moon, but we can’t keep ourselves from getting fat and dying of highly preventable diseases.

    Man is quite the fascinating creature.

  2. Marlen says:

    We have all accepted and allowed the nonexistence of food policies in our society. Population is maimed by food that is created in the name of profit – yes, however we are all equally participating in the same system of money which makes us All directly responsible for this problem. It’s not to demonize McDonald’s here, they simply represent the level of indulgence a human being is able to go into if not having enough information on how the physical body works, how what they eat will affect their bodies within the inevitable consequences that everything we eat have upon our bodies.

    As long as money runs the game, there will be no consideration of life support in proper ways. The root cause is then the monetary system that has enabled food to have a price tag upon it while the Earth gives it unconditionally.

    “Food – that which assist/support with the nurturing of development/growth/expansion/continuation and the potential of life – in this, we must consider food mentally and physically – within nurturing ourselves as ‘who we are’ and nurturing our living within/as this physical existence to assist/support with expansion/growth/development into/as the potential of/as life – so, we assist/support ourselves with food that facilitate processes of realisations/insights/understandsing and nurture ourselves with substance to facilitate our physical processes – so that we internaly and externally can continue walking our processes of rebirthing life from the physical, if you fuck up what you give to yourself mentally and physically, you compromise your process in this existence.” Sunette Spies

    Further perspectives:

  3. andrewclunn says:

    “Americans, therefore, will eat their cake, spend what money they have, and simply die when they die, with or without healthcare, and so “decrease the surplus population” (in Scrooge’s infamous words).

    That’s what government non-interference, in this instance, means. Are we all O.K. with this? Is this the price of freedom?”

    Yes! YES!! Let the fat fuckers die. It’s only a problem for everyone if we force responsible people to pay for the health care of the unhealthy. Death of the weak willed and unfit is not a flaw of freedom and capitalism, it’s a feature.

    • Santi Tafarella says:


      I feel your attitude in myself as well sometimes, but what about the social contract? Do you really think that capitalism thrives best in a world where the poor are brought to utter desperation? Not having a social safety net makes for volatile democratic politics (alternations between extreme authoritarianism, fundamentalist religion, and leftist revolution). People under extraordinary stress are generally not pleasant or rational.

      In some ways, I think young libertarians are mirroring their grandparents: they are deeply resentful of the lack of concern the old display for the young, and as a reaction formation, the young embrace a philosophy that justifies kicking the weak, old, and unhealthy to the curb.


      • andrewclunn says:

        Perhaps you should not see my position as some wound upon my soul, but as the result of consistent principle. Look to whom it is that commits the violent crimes… the poor. Look to who it is that takes the most from society through social welfare programs; the poor and the elderly. Look at who is most likely to cling to outdated religions and oppose equal rights for homosexuals; the poor and the elderly. Look to who has more children than they can possibly afford to raise properly, relying on others to pay for them via taxation and then clean up the mess made by the large percentage that turn to crime; it’s the poor. Let go of your guilt and let evolution take its course. We that remain shall have a better world to live in if we do.

      • Santi Tafarella says:


        Crime in the US is at 1950s levels; and it was bankers and GM that got bailed out recently.

        And the elderly are a product of the success of capitalism: people live longer, and are increasingly obese, but don’t save for retirement and health care in their younger years. Not saving when you’re young is an issue of psychology that only some sort of insurance can remedy—some forced option out of a pay check; something you don’t think about and that the warring parts of your brain can’t debate over.

        Your idea that perfect freedom would result in better results is a product of a faulty assumption: that people are perfectly free. Cognitive psychology suggests that they are not. And most people are not terribly smart (in case you haven’t noticed).

        A century from now, there may be eugenically produced humans that can function in a Nietzschean heroic fashion and expect of others total responsibility.

        In the meantime, you’ve got to map your way into the future with the “crew” the good Lord gave you: the 7 billion flawed people on earth right now. Letting the poor and elderly crash and burn in the name of evolution is not the way to get to a human future. It’s socially destabilizing, what you propose. And it could never be enacted democratically. It would only happen under an authoritarian government with a vast police state apparatus. And then, with such a government, the risk would be high to not wait passively for “nature to take its course,” but to engage in active genocide.

        If humans are going to take over their own evolution over the next century (as appears likely), you want to guarantee now the rights and dignity of vulnerable people. I want a humanist future, not a Nietzschean one.

        Don’t you?


  4. Paradigm says:

    There is only one way to solve this and it is by government intervention – vice taxes and similar actions to force people to eat more healthy. No politician is going to win an election with a “Let them die” slogan. Approximately 10 percent of all Americans identify as libertarians and not all of them would be ok with letting people die on the street.

    But even with interventions there is also the matter of genetics. Americans rank higher than any other nation on measures of impulsivity. This trait is linked to obesity and has a heritability of around 75 percent. And it’s very resistant to external influence.

    • Santi Tafarella says:


      You’ve definitely hit on something: the constraining factor of genetically inherited temperaments. Humans are less free when surrounded by temptations than they suppose, and capitalists are very good at “attracting fish” (customers) and dangling bait before them till they take it. Visions of negative long term consequences are lost in the mesmerizing appeal of short term gains. It’s why Americans don’t save money either.

      Obesity and extraordinary medical measures in the last six months of a person’s life are diseases of affluence; unintended consequence of a certain level of prosperity. We’ll probably go on affording them until we obviously can’t.

      It’s why I think that President Obama is toast in November: he has not positioned himself well for dealing with the national debt; the problems we’ve got cannot be solved by borrowing and spending; increasing taxes is unpopular; and people have taken on an attitude akin to Andrew (every man for himself). In a boat that’s sinking, people are looking out for number one and leaving the rest to drown.

      Mitt Romney, when he gets to the presidency, won’t be able to change course much either; he’ll just put the glow of sanctity upon heading for the life boats. Everyday, Americans are another day older and deeper in debt.


  5. Mommy that cares says:

    I am sorry but you can not take it out on the ppl that are trying to make money.we are all adults we are the ones that need to stand up and just say no thank you.

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