Garson to Join Panel to Discuss Whether Anti-Smoking Strategies Could Cut Obesity

July 24, 2009 — Will the same strategies that cut adult tobacco use in half also fight obesity?

Dr. Arthur Garson Jr., executive vice president and provost of the University of Virginia and an authority on health policy, will take part in a panel on Tuesday to explore just that question.
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Garson, former dean of U.Va.'s School of Medicine, will join other health experts and a food industry representative for a discussion from noon to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C.

It's based on a report, "Reducing Obesity: Strategies from the Tobacco Wars," that Garson co-authored with Carolyn L. Engelhard, assistant professor and health policy analyst at U.Va., and Stan Dorn, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute.

Obesity and overweight drive higher health-care costs and reduce the productivity of American industry, according to the Urban Institute report. "If recent trends continue, more than 40 percent of adults will be obese in just six years and, for the first time in history, Americans' average life span will shrink rather than grow," the report states.

The report urges policymakers to take lessons from the long-running battle against tobacco use, such as imposing excise taxes on fattening foods; placing simple, graphic nutrition labels on the front of packages; requiring restaurant chains to put nutrition information next to each menu item, and banning the advertising and limiting the marketing of fattening food.

Such an effort could be part of health care reform, the report says. Not only would effective anti-obesity policies slow the growth of American health care costs, but also an excise tax on fattening food could raise more than $500 billion over 10 years, according to the report, which could be used to cover the uninsured and finance obesity prevention efforts.

The topic is certain to be controversial. "Woe is us," the Washington Times wrote on Friday in its Inside the Beltway column. "Maybe this means Utz potato chips will soon be a luxury item. There will be snack riots in the street. And fried-pie hoarding."

"I'm going to take the position that whether this happens is really an issue for the American people and their legislators to decide," Garson said. "While I happen to think it's a good idea, we're just putting it out there for debate."

The other panelists are:

• John Holahan, director, Health Policy Center, Urban Institute (moderator)
• John Calfee, resident scholar, American Enterprise Institute
• Matthew Myers, president, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
• Judith Thorman, senior vice president, government affairs, American Beverage Association.

The discussion will be Webcast and recorded; registration is required. To attend in Washington, D.C., RSVP at the Urban Institute Web site, e-mail paffairs@urban.org, or call 202-261-5709.