Where we get fit and spin (wool)

Posts tagged ‘personal responsibility’

The Law of Unintended Consequences

I probably ought to give my articles more straightforward titles, but I like playing with writing a bit. Anyway, this entry is based on an article I just read, “Coming Soon to a Workplace Near You, “Wellness or Else””. It was very interesting, as it plays into some of my favorite thought patterns.

First, I love listening to and economist’s take on things. I read “Freakonomics”, and I listen to the “Planet Money” podcast. This article focuses on the economics of workplace wellness, and do the perceived savings really add up, or are the savings coming from other sources? The article states that much of the savings come from throwing more of the health care costs back on employees in the form of penalties or denial of coverage if they don’t participate in wellness programs. It states the actual cost benefit is programs costing 100$-300$ per person, with only a 25-40$ drop in medical costs per year. If direct health savings were the only incentive for companies, obviously they don’t have a lot of reason to institute these programs.

Second, I’m fascinated by incentives and whether they work, or, as my title implies, create unintended consequences. Are health incentives helping motivate us to get healthier, or are they coercive and unfairly punishing people? For example. Let’s say I offer to pay any employee to quit smoking. How do I prove it? Do I demand blood tests? If I’m a non smoker, it hardly seems fair. If I restart, can I get the quitting bonus again? Incentives seem like a great thing, till you see how they play out.

I want everyone to do everything in their power to get healthier. We know that people will engage in unhealthy behavior, in spite of repeated negative consequences. It is hard to know what will motivate people to change. It seems like this is a positive tool, but maybe not. What do you think? Do you have any personal experience?

Personal Resbonsibility, What’s Yours?

Mea Culpa

I’m a big fan of personal responsibility. I don’t think we can clean up the world, unless we are cleaning our own house. However, I caught myself thinking something today that made me wonder about my own attitudes. I was cleaning the cat box. I use the clumping cat litter, and I was wondering if it is bad for the environment. My next thought was “They wouldn’t be allowed to make it if it wasn’t”. Outside of how ridiculous that thought is (can anyone say “superfund”?), it was an obvious dodge of personal responsibility. In this case, I want to dodge it, as I love this stuff. It makes keeping three cats easy, neat and not stinky. How often do we avoid considering personal responsibility because we don’t want to change?

The Tie In

I live in New York state. Often called the “Nanny state”, since we seem to have more “it’s bad for you” laws than any other state, other than California. Most of us poo-poo those laws, citing personal responsibility. The cat box this morning made me reconsider that. How many of won’t change until forced to, because we like the thing that might not be good for us? They don’t have to ban clumping cat litter for me to stop using it, but the negative qualities would have to be dramatically and forcefully shown to me in order for me to change.

I can’t say I quit smoking because of the indoor smoking ban, but it certainly helped. Going through the mini- withdrawals I had to endure each time I spent time in a public building was an added incentive to quitting. Make it easy to do the right thing, hard to do the wrong is the basis of behavior change. Is it wrong to have our governments to participate in these efforts? What if a company doesn’t exercise personal responsibility and makes a product that hurts people? Is our only recourse tort law? Of course, bringing up tort law reminds us that anything that can be used for good purpose can be used for bad, 10 times over!

That, of course, is the whole reason people are against the government getting involved in areas that should be relegated to personal responsibility, sinceĀ  governmental laws ALWAYS have unintended consequences. One law does not fit all circumstances. In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg has gotten much criticism and praise for banning trans fat, supersized drinks and making it a law that calories had to be posted in menus. Are people only angry because they don’t like being told what to do? Is there a threat to trying to eliminate unhealthy things? To further complicate things, since we are already in the process of socialized medicine, do you have the right to do what you want, if I have to pay for it? Do I have the right to tell you what to eat if you weigh 250 and are a type II diabetic, and that is costing my tax money to pay for?

Let me know what you think. I don’t know for sure. I don’t want laws that stop me from doing what I like, but I can’t see the harm in guiding behavior in healthier lines, since we have companies doing so much to affect us psychologically and emotionally to buy their products that don’t help us at all. Can we educate everyone and inoculate them mentally to resist? Or do we legislate that companies cannot put certain things in their products, or use certain tactics to sell the items. Does knowing better actually lead to better behavior? I can attest that knowledge alone does not create change.

Mirror, Mirror On the Wall, Who’s the Biggest of Them All?

I just read this post from “Fooducate’s” blog about the obesity epidemic. The statistics are astonishing and horrible. When you think about quality of life issues, and the resulting health problems of being overweight, it gets mind boggling. Here is just a sample:

10. Over the past 15 years, seven states have doubled their rate of obesity. Another 10 states nearly doubled their obesity rate, with increases of at least 90%.

11. Over the past 15 years, diabetes rates have doubled in ten states. In 1995, only four states had diabetes rates above 6%. Now, 43 have diabetes rates over 7% and 32 have rates above 8%.

12. Ten years ago, no state had an obesity rate above 24%, and now 43 states have higher obesity rates than the state that was the highest in 2000.

The question becomes, “what do we do about it?”. Is it a question of personal responsibility, or of corporate and social responsibility? I talked before about the being an issue in our church. Our entire culture has changed to encourage obesity, in a variety of ways, but the number one way is food culture. We subsidize junk food, corporations and their advertisements know how to appeal to us, and there is no moral concern about any of this. Is it right to appeal to people’s weakness? We are prewired to desire fat, sugar and salt. That was fine when those things were hard to obtain, but now we are inundated with them. Getting back to my church example, someone brought a pecan pie last week. I know better, but I couldn’t resist. Fortunately, it wasn’t that good, so I threw half of it out. The point is, if you wave treats under someones nose, they will succumb, sooner or later. Do we insist people must have more will power and education? Or do we change the culture, to stop creating so many temptations? Do we make junk food more expensive?

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