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Obesity in America May Bankrupt Civilization, study

Dominika Osmolska Psy.D.'s picture
Obesity growing in USA affecting half of population

Lancet, U.K.’s premier health journal, is publishing a series on the causes, risks and consequences from obesity, a scourge that is projected to affect 50 percent of the U.S. population by 2030 and potentially bankrupt our very society. The findings are being published in a series of four papers.

Half of US adults may be obese

The researchers found that the U.S. and the U.K are the most obese among the world's leading economies. Specifically, the number of obese people in the United States will increase from 99 million in 2008 to 164 million by 2030, and the number of obese people in the U.K. will increase from 15 million to 26 million. The numbers are based on analyses of U.S. data from 1988 to 2008 and U.K. data from 1993 to 2008.

Obesity-related diseases and health care costs will soar as a result affecting half of US adult population. Obesity raises the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, various cancers, hypertension, and high cholesterol, among other consequences, conditions which will require increasing health care expenditures to treat. In the United States, the cost of treating obesity-related diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke, would increase $66 billion per year by 2030, and represent a 2.6 percent increase in overall health spending.

Spending on obesity problems alone will increase 13 percent to 16 percent per year if U.S. trends continue. About 4 percent of that increase is attributable to an aging population, the study said.

The increasing rates of obesity would mean 7.8 million extra cases of diabetes, 6.8 million extra cases of coronary heart disease and stroke, and 539,000 extra cancer cases by 2030.

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According to researchers, losing just a little weight collectively would translate to significant savings. The report noted that a 1 percent population-wide decrease in body-mass index (just 1.9 pounds for an average 198-pound adult) would prevent more than 2 million cases of diabetes, roughly 1.5 million cases of heart disease and stroke, and 73,000 to 127,000 cancer cases in the United States.

The authors affirm what we already know: the obesity epidemic, which has reached global proportions, is driven mainly by an increased supply of cheap, tasty, energy-dense food, improved food distribution and marketing, and the strong economic forces driving consumption and growth. The health experts urged governments to lead the fight in reversing the obesity epidemic through taxes on unhealthy food and drink (such as sugar sweetened beverages) and restrictions on food and beverage TV advertising to children.

A few pundits, such as Tim Worstoll of Forbes, object that such measures constitute an infringement of personal and civil liberties. If he wants his life to be a short but fat and jolly one, he says, then that is his prerogative. The more important point, he emphasizes, is that we have, collectively as a species, overcome the most pressing problem of life itself: we have successfully overcome a short supply of lunch. What we do with that victory, he insists, is our personal and private business.

Presumably, this implies that if we want to bankrupt our health and our society, that is our right.

He has a point. It is very doubtful that government intervention in advertising and taxation will have profound or long-term consequences. The fed has required warning labels on tobacco and alcohol products for decades without making a dent in the rates of smoking or drinking. Federal warnings about the dangers of these products do not constitute an education.

What perhaps both the Lancet and Mr. Worstall fail to point out is that the obesity epidemic is also a great moral and existential problem. It is a problem of the exploitation of corporate power, most notably on the poorer segments of affluent societies, as well as less developed societies in general. It is also a problem of humanity’s basic drive for surplus, which is driven, in turn, by an insecurity which is clearly not sated even when things go well. And to counter Mr. Worstall’s argument, I would point out that most obese individuals are not jolly at all. They suffer from such plights as depression and poverty more frequently than their slender counterparts.

Source: The Lancet Obesity Series
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons