The Internal Revenue Service announced this week that medical expenses related to managing obesity are eligible for a tax deduction under the same rules governing any other medical expense. This means that, as far as the IRS is concerned, obesity is officially a disease. That could end up making this a very expensive tax break indeed.
Making obesity an official disease will provide more ammunition for those who insist that we need more taxes on certain foods to manipulate our eating choices -- part of a grand tradition of both conservatives and liberals to muddy up the tax code for social engineering purposes.
The "obesity is a disease" idea ignores that, far from being the result of some pathogen beyond our control, or a condition treatable only by medication, obesity is a condition whose cure everyone knows and everyone can do: burning off more calories than you consume.
Ignoring that simple truth strikes yet another blow at the concept of personal responsibility -- a concept vital to a free society. If obesity is a disease because of its ballooning prevalence, then it's a public health crisis. And if it's a public health crisis, government action will be necessary to manage it.
And since this "disease" is a result of our free choices, it means government will have to control those choices. We can expect a replay of the tobacco game of more taxes, more regulation, and huge lawsuits -- all to benefit people unwilling to admit that their health problems are their own fault. That's a high price to pay for a small tax break that will mostly benefit weight-loss medical professionals. You know, people more eager to make an easy buck than to simply, honestly tell their clients, "Hey, don't pay me a bundle of cash, even if it is now tax deductible: Eat less and exercise more, pal."