According to a CNN study, 7 out of 10 Americans do not regularly exercise.
According to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, 68% of Americans (roughly 7 out of 10) are obese or overweight.
The federal government has declared obesity a national health emergency, and with good reason; these non-exercising Americans suffer from costly and painful complications, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Regular exercise has the power to diminish and even completely vanish the effects of these diseases. Why, then, hasn’t the federal government made it less costly for Americans to go to the gym?
Some might argue that it is not the federal government’s job to make positive choices for its citizens. I agree with that sentiment; it makes me shiver when I consider the possibility that some future Orwellian America could one day decide what job I am best suited for, pair me with an ideal mate, invest my money for me. As Americans, we are guaranteed the divine, inalienable right to foul up our lives, or not, based on our own choices. Our freedom is a double-edged sword that must be handled with respect.
And while I believe in personal choice, I also believe in rewarding positive choice. And to those who condemn a tax break on exercise, I would remind you that this government is already in the business of subsidizing success. Health insurance is tax deductable. So is higher education. So are charitable donations and retirement contributions. Teachers get a break on books and computers. First time homeowners heave a sigh of tax relief.
Americans want to have health insurance. They want MBA’s, 401(k)’s, Goodwill bins filled to the brim, a home of their own, and a little bit of extra money in their pockets. Americans want it, and the government wants to help them pay for it. To add “the ability to walk up a flight of stairs,” or “fit into a single airplane seat” to that dream seems the least we can do.
Making gym memberships tax deductable will not turn us into a nation of sinewy triathletes overnight, but it will be the first step in the right direction. However heavy, however scary, however pained that first step may be, we must take it. We are a nation of freedom, but also a nation of community, of progress and problem-solving. We cannot ignore this opportunity to improve and elongate the lives of the majority of our citizens. Remember, 68% of us need help. In an election year, that’s a landslide.