The dramatic decline in smoking rates helped lower lung cancer and cardiovascular disease, but it’s also correlated with a rise in obesity.
In health as in economics, there are no solutions — only tradeoffs.
“It’s not unreasonable to think that the two might be at least somewhat related,” according to The Washington Post.
Charles Baum, an economics professor at Middle Tennessee State University, and Shin-Yi Chou, a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, came to that conclusion when tracing the rise in obesity.
“Baum and Chou used almost 30 years’ worth of data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. The survey gathered detailed information about the social and economic backgrounds, weight, height and many other characteristics of more than 12,000 youth. The researchers controlled for several variables, including age, education, income and work experience. And what they found is that nothing seemed to have had much of an effect at all. That is, aside from the changes in cigarette consumption,” Roberto A. Ferdman wrote.
That implies a way to fight obesity that no health expert would propose: smoke more. It wouldn’t reverse the obesity trend, but it could cause a notable fall in the collective weight of Americans.
As unhealthy as smoking is, it’s not as unhealthy as Americans think it is.
“Given the tremendous publicity that smoking risks have received, one would expect that people would tend to overestimate the risks of smoking rather than underestimate the dangers. The pattern of overestimation is in fact what we find,” W. Kip Viscusi, an economist at Vanderbilt University, wrote.
For those Americans who avoided smoking, but have health problems related to obesity, the anti-smoking crusade left them worse off.
That doesn’t mean that smoking declines didn’t have its benefits. The health effects were overwhelmingly positive. The correlation, though, hints that government health policy has unintended consequences it is unprepared to address.