Poll: Unhealthy habits should be penalized

Customers enter a McDonald's restaurant in Los Angeles (AP Photo/Matt Sayles) Customers enter a McDonald's restaurant in Los Angeles (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)

Nearly one-third of Americans believe overweight and obese individuals should be penalized for their unhealthy habits and more than half say smokers should pay more for their health insurance, according to a Thomson Reuters-NPR Health Poll.

About 31 percent of respondents say overweight or obese individuals should pay more for health insurance than individuals with a normal weight. About 11 percent even said they thought it was acceptable to deny employment to those heavier individuals.

But a much larger percentage (60 percent) believes smokers should pay the higher price. This view was more prevalent as respondents’ age, income, and level of education increased.

When asked about specific factors driving up health care costs, respondents pegged smoking (28.5 percent), obesity (27 percent) and stress (25 percent) as the top cost drivers. These factors beat out alcohol use (11 percent) and workplace safety (7.5 percent). 

Overwhelmingly 85 percent believe that individuals with “healthful behaviors,” which included exercise, healthy eating and not using tobacco, should receive a discount on their health insurance premiums.

“Discounts for good behaviors are always more popular than surcharges for bad behaviors, but the science of behavioral economics teaches us that loss avoidance is three times more powerful than receiving a gain,” says Raymond Fabius, chief medical officer for the healthcare business of Thomson Reuters. “Before anyone rushes to create behavior-based plans, though, it’s important to look at the data. Our research shows that obesity is a much higher driver of health care costs than smoking.”

Thomson Reuters-NPR interviewed 3,012 participants from September 1-13, 2011. The margin of error is 1.8 percent.

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