Can a government make its citizens stop smoking? How does a society help people live healthier lifestyles? Dr. Oz and Dr. Michael Roizen are joined by Nobel Laureate Gary Becker from the University of Chicago to discuss how and why people make health decisions, and the role of economics in determining public health policy.
Gary says it's important to look at "human capital" to determine how health relates to economics and why people make health decisions. Human capital, Gary says, deals with the skills, knowledge and abilities a person contributes in the marketplace and in the household as consumers—including their knowledge of health issues. This in turn affects the choices they make and is important because the U.S. economy is essentially a knowledge-based economy, Gary says.
Gary says there are many ways a government can affect the health of its citizens. For example, if you raise taxes on cigarettes, you reduce the number of smokers. On the other hand, those who continue to smoke are generally less educated, poorer and get hit the hardest. Although Gary does not support taxing unhealthy foods, he says schools can make a huge impact on the health of Americans by serving and selling healthier food options.
One of the unsung benefits of globalization, Gary says, is the convergence of longer life expectancy across all countries. If you examine poor vs. rich countries in the last 40 years, poor countries have grown no faster than rich countries in their income per capita, Gary says—so it looks like they're not making progress. However, when you incorporate into your measure of GDP, or material well-being, a measure in the improvements of life expectancy, poor countries have done much better than richer countries. Therefore, Gary says poorer countries have in fact significantly improved their position relative to rich countries.