Global Obesity Epidemic

Obesity is such a rapidly growing, worldwide problem that recently, the Lancet devoted an entire series to various aspects of the problem, providing Rick and me with an ideal 'evergreen' topic to talk about in this week's podcast as he is currently cycling (and eating lots of French food) in France.  His risk of becoming obese or even overweight is remote, however, since he's balancing intake and output.

The series begins with identifying the root of the problem.  As we look historically we can see that two major factors are at play:  the availability of cheap food and the adoption of a relatively sedentary workplace and lifestyle.  Until recently these curves did not intersect, but in the last couple of decades they have.  As a result people are eating more inexpensive, very available food, and they're moving around less and less.  The perfect prescription for laying on the body fat, and that's exactly what we've done in developed countries.  In developing countries the model is borne out.  Initially more economically affluent members of a society begin to put on weight, then the lower rungs of the economic ladder, driven by the same factors of cheap food and inactivity.  And as Rick points out, cheap food is often nutritionally empty, so paradoxically, even though people aren't suffering from underfeeding they are suffering from malnutrition.

The costs of our burgeoning obesity problem are exorbitant.  Numbers don't really convey the problem as such huge dollar amounts are really meaningless to most of us.  What does make more sense is percentages, with these studies revealing that obese people account for a 46% increase in inpatient costs, 27% more physician visits and outpatient costs, and 80% increased spending on prescription drugs, when compared to normal weight individuals.  The total projection in the US alone is that by 2030 we'll be spending an additional 50-65 billion dollars per year on obesity related healthcare costs.  That's a gigantic sum that could no doubt be better spent on a whole range of intervention strategies and preventive healthcare services.

Prevention, of course, is key.  As I opined in last week's blog, obesity doesn't develop overnight, and so offers multiple opportunities to intervene as someone is on the weight gain trajectory.  But the Lancet series points out that simply educating individuals and hoping they'll voluntarily adopt weight management or weight loss behaviors isn't enough.  Just as with cigarette smoking, obesity is a problem that affects society at large and will require societal interventions, and that means getting governments involved.  Strategies known to be effective and that governments worldwide might adopt include increasing taxation on fast foods and snack foods with low nutritional content, mandating that food labeling be placed on the front of packaging and that it's easily readable and understandable, and using tax monies to provide more walking routes and cycling paths.

Rick points out that each year, societally we have a whole new cohort who have never been exposed to obesity: infants.  Intervening early with children by limiting their exposure to television and Internet ads extolling the virtues of snack foods and funding programs to promote physical activity in schools will help prevent obesity to begin with.  Until next week, y'all live well.

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Natural Ways To Lose Weight | Fat Burning Diet
January 19, 2012 at 8:11 pm
Natural Ways To Lose Weight | Fat Burning Diet
January 19, 2012 at 8:11 pm

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