I’m getting tired of TV stories on the obesity crisis. It’s not because I feel guilty about my eating habits-it’s because there is always some implication that-somehow-this is Uncle Sam’s problem.

An intriguing article by a Hoover scholar says obesity (unlike, say, second-hand smoke) harms nobody but the obese person (remember when we could just say fat?) and is therefore not a public health problem:

“Though the question deserves a more careful look, I think it likely that obese workers themselves pay [the cost of lower productivity attributed to obese workers]. It seems unlikely that employers would pay high wages to unproductive workers over any extended period. If that is so, then there is no social harm caused by this reduced productivity.

“One might reason that there also is social harm from a reduction in a nation’s productivity. But such reasoning ignores the desires of the workers themselves. If each worker in a nation pays the full cost of her decisions leading to her lower productivity, then the nation is no poorer. In a sense, those workers are “buying” something they value-doughnuts, maybe-at the cost of lower productivity and lower wages.

“Under the standard set out at the beginning of this essay, the obesity epidemic is no public health crisis. Most of the costs from poor diet and lack of exercise are paid by the obese themselves. This does not mean that the government should do nothing; for instance, it is probably appropriate to warn consumers about the dangers associated with some foods, such as those with high trans-fat content. Also, government should get out of the business of subsidizing foods (such as high-fructose corn syrup) through its agricultural policies.

“Any government intervention should be scrutinized for unintended and harmful side effects. For instance, taxing burgers at fast-food restaurants may sound like a good idea, but doing so would hurt the poor. My colleagues Darius Lakdawalla and Tomas Philison have shown that raising the price of ground beef can increase anemia rates among poor children in the United States. That anemia rates and the price of ground beef rise together is not surprising because beef, often consumed at fast-food restaurants, is a primary source of iron for poor children. This is yet another warning against adopting policies appropriate for a public health crisis when no such crisis exists.”