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Alabama 'Obesity Penalty' Stirs Debate

August 26, 2008
by Don Fernandez
Web MD

"We certainly wouldn't support these kinds of punitive measures," says Jeffrey Levi, PhD, executive director of Trust for America's Health and associate professor of health policy at George Washington University School of Public Health. "The successful measures by health plans focus on incentives rather than punishment." The Alabama requirements, Levi tells WebMD, could be interpreted as a genetic penalty for those who are predisposed to having extra weight or high cholesterol. Some people also require a variety of treatments or medications before finding one that is effective. Making those who fail pay from their pockets also places more economic pressure on them, he says, which could lead them to turn to cheaper, calorie-dense food. "We need to recognize the complexity of these things," Levi says. "Just addressing this through the health care system is insufficient. What are we doing about the workplace environment? What's served in state cafeterias and hospitals? We need to do the voluntary things first for people to be able to make healthy choices before forcing punitive measures."

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