Nation’s Doctors Classify Obesity As Disease
At their annual meeting this week, the American Medical Association officially recognized obesity, which affects about a third of all Americans, as a disease. What do you think?
“So the first lady has just been hassling a bunch of sick kids?”
Margo Leder – Orchestra Conductor
“I hope this means I can get my insurance company to pay for some wider pants.”
Lewis Pontrelli – Ribbon Winder
“Fat people don’t deserve any more sympathy than they already get.”
Terry Chooljian - Flatware Maker
I’ve never been prouder. Two Pennsylvania Metropolitan areas make the top 10. And Reading has the added benefit of being a dangerous, welfare shithole.
Boulder Remains Least Obese U.S. Metro Area
Residents in the areas with higher obesity rates struggle to afford basic necessities
WASHINGTON, D.C. — For the third consecutive year, residents of the Boulder, Colo., metro area are the least likely to be obese, at 12.5% in 2012. Residents of McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas, continue to be the most likely to be obese, at 38.5%. Adult obesity rates are higher than 15% in all but two of the 189 metro areas that Gallup and Healthways surveyed in 2012.
Along with the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission metro area, Beaumont-Port Arthur, Texas; Reading, Pa.; and Huntington-Ashland, W.Va.-Ky.-Ohio, are among the 10 areas with the highest obesity rates for three years in a row. Boulder; Fort Collins-Loveland, Colo.; Naples-Marco Island, Fla.; and San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif., have been among the locations with the lowest obesity rates since Gallup and Healthways started reporting them in 2010.
The metro areas with the 11 highest obesity rates in 2012 had an average obesity rate of 34.1%, while the metro areas with the 10 lowest obesity rates averaged 16.6%. Neither average differs substantially from the 2011 averages of 34.8% and 15.9%, respectively.
Nationwide, 26.2% of Americans aged 18 and older were obese in 2012, unchanged from 26.1% in 2011. Of the 189 reportable metro areas surveyed in 2012, 102 had obesity rates lower than the national average. Nineteen of the 25 most populous metro areas surveyed boasted obesity rates lower than the national average. Smaller metro areas were more likely to have above-average obesity rates, consistent with past reporting.
Gallup tracks U.S. obesity levels as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, using Americans’ self-reported height and weight to calculate Body Mass Index (BMI) scores. BMI scores of 30 or higher are considered obese.
These metro area findings are based on interviews with 248,538 U.S. adults, aged 18 and older, living in ZIP codes that map to each respective metro area. Gallup categorizes U.S. metro areas according to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget’s definitions for Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) and reports on all MSAs for which there are a minimum of 300 interviews available.
Residents of the Most Obese Areas More Likely to Be Low-Income
In the 11 metro areas with the highest obesity rates, the average annual wages are lower than in the 10 areas with the lowest obesity rates, reflecting the link between obesity and poverty. The average annual wage in the 11 areas with the highest obesity rates is $38,550, this compares with an average annual income of $47,783 for the 10 areas with the lowest obesity rates. Additionally, residents in the most obese areas, on average, earn $7,240 below the national mean wage of $45,790, while residents of the least obese areas average $1,993 more annually than the national mean wage.
Residents in the areas with the highest obesity rates are also 7.9 percentage points less likely than are those in the areas where obesity is lowest to have enough money to be able to buy food at all times. They are also 6.5 points less likely to have enough money for healthcare and medicine.
Obesity remains a prevalent and costly problem in America. In 2012, the U.S. did not make progress toward the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s nationwide goal to reduce obesity to 15%. The Gallup-Heathways Well-Being Index national obesity rate remained steady at 26.2% and just two metro areas had obesity rates below 15%, which is down from three in 2011.
Residents of the cities with the highest obesity rates receive on average lower annual wages and are less likely to be able to consistently afford food and healthcare than residents of the cities with the lowest obesity rates.
The complexity of decreasing obesity must be met with community and workforce leaders moving in tandem to promote the health of citizens and employees. By working together to educate and offer insights into healthier lifestyles, both companies and communities can benefit.
About the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index tracks wellbeing in the U.S. and provides best-in-class solutions for a healthier world. To learn more, please visit well-beingindex.com.
Overweight 6-Year-Old Vows To Change Lifestyle After Second Heart Attack
HOUSTON—Describing his second heart failure in the span of two years as “a real wake up call,” obese 6-year-old Nicholas Bleyer announced Tuesday that he was finally trying to turn his life around.
The 155-pound kindergartner, who previously underwent bypass surgery in 2011 after going into cardiac arrest on a local seesaw, was reportedly at home eating a post-breakfast snack when he began complaining of chest pain and had to be rushed to the hospital.
“After the second ‘big one,’ I figured my body was clearly sending me the message that I can’t go on living like this,” said Bleyer, pausing to catch his breath. “I’m serious this time. I’ve gotta start eating right, going to sleep at my bedtime, and getting some exercise instead of sitting on my ass all day watching Bubble Guppies marathons.”
“The old ticker’s taken enough abuse already,” continued the overweight kindergartner. “I’m not looking to test fate here.”
Admitting that he still suffered from some bad habits he picked up early in life, the 6-year-old vowed to reduce his caloric intake by cutting down on eating chicken fingers, hot dogs, and toaster pastries, as well as sticking to juice boxes instead of soda.
As per his pediatrician’s orders, Bleyer also said he planned to begin a cardio workout routine that makes sense for someone his age, alternating days between chasing insects, spinning around in circles, and doing some “light playground work.”
Yet despite his newfound resolve, Bleyer acknowledged that he should have been more aware of the warning signs in recent years.
“My friends and I have always been big guys, but when my old preschool buddy Ethan dropped dead of a heart attack a few years ago while stacking blocks, that should have set off alarm bells,” said Bleyer, who also had lost an obese classmate who never woke up from naptime. “At the time I remember promising myself I’d join a Gymboree, but of course I never did. And now look at me. I’ve got the arteries of someone 12 times my age.”
“Luckily, I’ve been given a second chance to work off this guy,” said the child, patting his gut.
While the 6-year-old acknowledged that he had “dodged a bullet this time,” Bleyer told reporters that he wished he still had the stamina to play tag with the youngsters like he used to without feeling like his chest was going to explode.
“I’m just grateful to get a new lease on life,” said the kindergartner. “If I eat right and stay active, who knows, maybe I could live to see double digits.”
Charles Hugh Smith with an excellent article about our obesity epidemic. I always go back to who benefits. It is mega-corporations who are selling us the poison that is killing us. It is mega-healthcare corporations who then benefit by selling us drugs to “cure” our corporate media induced obesity. And so it goes. It is time to opt out of this Huxley/Orwellian state.
December 5, 2012
Obesity and well-being are not just a matter of carbs/no-carbs; the causal chain is not that simple.
There are almost as many theories about why obesity has exploded in America and the world since the 1980s as there are researchers compiling data.
The rise in Body Mass Index (BMI) appears to correlate with the rise of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a simple carbohydrate.
Let’s begin by comparing two charts from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) which depict obesity levels on a state by state basis: the first in 1985 and the second, a generation later in 2008.
Clearly, obesity has exploded into a pandemic in just a single generation.
Interestingly, all the usual explanations–the rise of fast foods, women joining the workforce and thus the decline of the home-cooked meal and the decline of physical labor jobs–fail to explain the dramatic increase for the reason that all these conditions were already present in 1985.
Women had already joined the workforce en masse, fast-food outlets were already on every corner and jobs requiring hard physical labor had already dwindled to a small percentage of our post-industrial, service-dominated economy.
So what is different between 1985 and the present? At least one factor is the increased consumption of sugary beverages–soda, specialty coffees, iced teas, fake “juices” (colored sugar water with 10% actual fruit juice)–and the addition of HFCS to everything from snacks to breakfast bars to canned soups.
As a consequence, consumption of fructose (both “natural” and high-fructose corn sweetener, HFCS) has skyrocketed.
Reader R.W. recently submitted this account of his own family’s experience, and what they discovered by consulting with one of the nation’s leading experts in Pediatric Endocrinology.
I’ve attached a YouTube film of a lecture by Dr. Robert Lustig, head of Pediatric Endocrinology at UCSF Medical School. This is an explanation of the biological–and political–mechanism that causes obesity and Type 2 diabetes, and why they’ve become an epidemic.We were fortunate to find Dr. Lustig when my younger son, Pat was an adolescent. Pat was a very heavy boy who gained weight despite being vigorously active (for example, he played water polo year round) and really not eating that much. I finally persuaded Pat’s pediatrician that there was something wrong with the boy’s metabolism. Pat’s blood test showed he had cholesterol and triglyceride counts that would be extreme for an obese 60-year-old–into the high 300’s.
There were no pediatric endocrinologists in our area at that time, so we were sent to UCSF. Dr. Lustig enrolled Pat in a study which I think is still ongoing. The upshot: cut out all fructose, and obesity and all its symptoms subside.
Pat, now 20, weighs 25 pounds LESS than he did in the 8th grade, although he is six inches taller. People literally do not recognize him. It is a very gratifying and amazing transformation. It was simple, but not easy. Pat worked very hard, and for a while was assisted with metformin. (He is now off the drug, and shows no ill effects or relapsed weight gain or high cholesterol or triglycerides.) But mostly it was about shunning all fructose, especially in drinks.
Fructose is addictive for the same reasons, by the same mechanisms, and producing many of the same pathologies as alcohol, as Dr. Lustig explains in the lecture. One of his catch phrases is: “Fructose is alcohol without the buzz.”
It’s 90 minutes. Stick with it. It’s a little dense in spots, but overall, it is a compelling story. Dr. Lustig puts it all in context. I know he and Michael Pollan are aware of each other, though when I asked him he said they haven’t had any formal collaboration. But their views of our food delivery system are totally aligned.
I’m hoping that once you see this, you will feel that it deserves a wider audience.
Sugar: the Bitter Truth(University of California TV)
Here is the puzzle:Everyone agrees that “empty calories” contribute to obesity, and many see simple carbohydrates as the key cause of obesity.
On the other hand, I personally know many slim, healthy Asians whose diet is based on white rice and processed-flour noodles–the very sort of simple carbs that are supposed to make us all fat. Yes, they also eat small portions of fish and meat and significant quantities of vegetables, but you can’t get away from the fact that much of their caloric intake comes from processed carbohydrates.
She found that her subjects consumed about six times as many beans a day as Americans, ate fish twice a week and meat five times a month, drank on average two to three cups of coffee a day and took in about a quarter as much refined sugar — the elderly did not like soda. She also discovered they were consuming high levels of olive oil along with two to four glasses of wine a day.Social structure might turn out to be more important.In Sardinia, a cultural attitude that celebrated the elderly kept them engaged in the community and in extended-family homes until they were in their 100s. Studies have linked early retirement among some workers in industrialized economies to reduced life expectancy.
In Okinawa, there’s none of this artificial punctuation of life. Instead, the notion of ikigai — “the reason for which you wake up in the morning” — suffuses people’s entire adult lives. It gets centenarians out of bed and out of the easy chair to teach karate, or to guide the village spiritually, or to pass down traditions to children. The Nicoyans in Costa Rica use the term plan de vida to describe a lifelong sense of purpose. As Dr. Robert Butler, the first director of the National Institute on Aging, once told me, being able to define your life meaning adds to your life expectancy.
If carbs were the sole cause of obesity, then the Asians I personally know who probably get up to 60% of their calories from white rice or white-flour noodles should be grossly obese–instead, they’re thin. (They only get fat if they live in the U.S. and start eating an American-style diet.) How do we explain this paradox?
I recently corresponded with David B. Collum, Professor of Chemistry at Cornell University, who noted two potentially important factors:
I was in Germany a month ago and noticed (1) the grocery stores no longer look like markets but rather supermarkets with all the brightly colored packages of processed food, and (2) the Germans are getting fat.I am wholly convinced now that hidden carbs–not the potatoes and rice but the carbs in the processed foods–are what is putting on the pounds. After months of pondering why I was struggling to control weight despite some effort and listening to an econtalk podcast on the evils with carbs (and containing a nice dose of real biochemical flavor to the discussion), I dropped the carbs and dropped 30 lbs within 6 months.
In this Econtalk podcast (time: 1:20) Taubes on Why We Get Fat, author Gary Taubes presented some interesting rat studies along with the following model: (1) carbs trigger insulin, (2) insulin triggers fat deposition, (3) insulin with carb depletion triggers carb craving (after dinner foraging). I think the complex vs simple carb issue finally makes sense to me also. Simple carbs spike the insulin but the complex carbs are released more slowly and thus spike the insulin less. We eat carbs AND fat with the carbs sending the fat to the muffin top. The Asian diet may be carb-rich/fat poor.
I think there is plenty of evidence to support these two points:
1. That there are significant amounts of simple carbs (HFCS etc.) “hidden” in the processed foods Americans consume in quantity, and
2. It is the ratio and type of fats and carbs that generates weight gain, not carbs alone–that is, a carb-rich, low-fat diet based on legumes and vegetables typical of traditional Asian diets does not lead to obesity, even though the carbs consumed are simple/processed white rice and white-flour noodles.
I would add a third factor, which is the paucity of vegetables, fruits and legumes in the American diet. Just avoiding carbs does not make one healthy.
It’s not just avoiding carbs that counts, it’s avoiding all processed foods and sugar-laden beverages.
Lastly, let’s not forget exercise, which dramatically alters our metabolism, blood sugar and psyche.Cutting our processed foods and simple carbs (empty calories) is only the first step–the second equally important step is getting fit via daily or almost-daily exercise of the sort that builds muscle mass and endurance. People who live long healthy lives are always on the move, and are doing so with purpose.
Gary Taubes’ books:
This book presents evidence that vegetables and complex carbs are essential, meat less so:
These articles were written by a physicist who decided to investigate/experiment via his own weight loss program:
I found out later in the cruise that more than 50% of the passengers were from foreign countries – mostly Northern Europe. This says a lot about where the wealth in the world is migrating. What I also noticed is that Europeans are just as fat as Americans. I have to conclude that this obesity epidemic is not a mistake. Who benefits from obesity? The corporations that peddled the processed foods and drinks which created millions of sickly obese waddling humans. The corporate media that makes billions convincing ignorant people that poptarts, cheetos, coke, and KFC are great food choices. The medical/insurance complex that makes billions by treating the symptoms of obesity, with no attempt to stop it before it happens. We are just fat sheeple herded by the corporate interests that run the world. Until we turn our backs on the corporate fascists and the banker cabal that run our lives, nothing will change.
“Survival Of The Fattest”: It’s A Fat, Fat World After All
Submitted by Tyler Durden on 11/24/2012 16:21 -0500
Back in March, we first presented a rather stunning finding: by 2020 75% of Americans will be obese or overweight. This was promptly followed up with a post showing just how it is transpired that America became the fattest nation in the world in less than 20 years. What however may not be known, is that America’s fatness epidemic is not localized to the country that gave the world the McDonalds burger (and the McMansion): it really is a fat, fat world, after all.
Behold – survival of the fattest:
It is hardly surprising in this light, then, that the estimate for number of people living with diabetes has been increased, to 371 million – an increase of 11% over 2011.
So with the sensitive issue of what one stuffs in their mouth becoming of paramount importance, primarily due to the avalanche in social costs as a result of escalating morbid obesity, here is a primer on the key facts and figures relating to obesity, domestic as well as foreign, and impacting not just the developed world but also emerging economies, from GS’ Mick Ready and Keyur Parekh.
Obesity is a unique phenomenon affecting almost all countries. It is defined as excessively high amount of body fat in relation to lean tissue, and individuals are generally considered overweight if their BMI is over 25, and clinically obese if their body mass index (BMI) is greater than 30.
The 1980s saw a sharp acceleration in BMI in OECD countries. Before 1980, global obesity rates were generally below 10% but today, in almost half of OECD countries, 50% of the population is overweight. Interestingly, data suggests that obesity is a pandemic that is now impacting not just the developed western countries, but also the emerging economies. In BRIC economies, obesity rates are somewhat lower than in their OECD counterparts, but urbanisation and lifestyle changes are driving a significant increase in average BMI. In China, the proportion of the population considered overweight increased from 13.5% in 1991 to 26.7% in 2006; in Brazil between 1975 and 2003, the obesity rate tripled in men and doubled in women; and in Russia 25% of women and 10% of men are now considered obese.
- Data suggest that at levels of GDP below US$5,000 per capita there is a linear relationship between GDP and mean BMI, and that the only pre-condition for developing an obese population is the ability to afford food.
- In low income countries, obese individuals are typically middle-aged women from wealthy, urban settings.
- In countries with GDP of more than US$5,000 per capita pa, obesity is not characterized by gender, or age, but disadvantaged groups typically are at greater risk of becoming obese;
- 33% of US adults earning over US$15,000 pa are obese, compared with 25% of those earning over US$50,000 pa.
- 33% of adults who did not graduate high school were obese, compared with 21.5% who graduated from college.
What’s causing this increase?
Obesity is a complex problem, with multiple factors influencing its development within a population. These factors include systemic and environmental drivers, which provide an infrastructure to promote high growth, consumption of transport and recreational factors, which limit the physical activity within a population, and behavioral patterns, where individuals consume high-energy foods and lead sedentary lifestyles.
For an individual, obesity is caused by an energy imbalance: simply put, obese individuals consume more energy than they use. Energy intake is a clear factor in the rise of obesity, and dietary intake is strongly influenced by the kinds of food we eat. Changes in the food system to more mass-produced, processed foods with added salt, fats and sugars, coupled with more effective marketing of these products, especially targeting young children has changed the kind of food we eat which contributes to this energy imbalance.
To summarize, changes in the global food system, which produces readily available, inexpensive, highly processed and well marketed foods, coupled with changes in working patterns, has created an energy imbalance resulting in increased levels of obesity.
Sugary drinks: The choice of a heavy generation
There are multiple factors which are linked to the development of obesity globally, but sugar-sweetened drinks have attracted particular attention in the US. Sugar intake from sugar-sweetened drinks is thought to be the largest single caloric food source in the US, approaching 15% of the daily calorific intake in several population groups.
High-sugar drinks are effectively marketed to children and young adults, and their consumption is often linked to fast food, which is likely to exacerbate the obesity problem. Many sugar-sweetened drinks contain high-fructose corn syrup, and there is evidence to suggest a link between high-fructose corn syrup and the development of insulin resistance (think diabetes). Multiple studies have shown that replacing a sugar-containing drink with a sugar-free equivalent significantly reduced weight gain and fat accumulation in normal weight children, prompting calls from the American Heart Association, the Institute of Medicine, and the Obesity society to reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.
The consequences of being obese: Shorter, less healthy lives The life expectancy of a person with a BMI of 40-45 is reduced by around 8-10 years, which is similar to the reduction in life expectancy suffered by smokers. An overweight person of average height increases their risk of death by around 30% for every 15kg of weight. Obesity is a key risk factor in the development of multiple diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis and
The most direct and obvious impact of obesity is on incidence of diabetes – a severely obese person is around 60 times more likely to develop diabetes than someone with normal weight. High blood pressure and high cholesterol levels are also linked to high BMI.
These combined risk factors make an obese individual more likely to die from heart disease or stroke.
But perhaps a less intuitive link is the one between obesity, physical inactivity and cancer. Obesity and physical inactivity are also a key risk factor in the development of certain cancers; around 9% of colorectal cancers, and 11% of postmenopausal breast cancer in women is linked to obesity. An additional 5kg/m2 in BMI is thought to increase the risk of colorectal cancer by 24% in males, and to increase the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer in women by 12%.
Obesity and cancer – the not so obvious link
According to the American Cancer Society, one-third of cancer deaths are linked to obesity and/or lack of physical activity.
Improvements in cancer diagnosis, treatment and prevention has seen an improvement in death rates for cancer in the US over recent years, but the obesity epidemic within the US puts this trend at risk. Obesity is a known risk factor for multiple different tumour types, including oesophageal, colorectal, endometrial, kidney and certain breast cancers. In addition to increasing the risk of developing certain cancers, obese individuals are less likely to survive their cancer diagnosis; individuals with a BMI above 40 had death rates 52% higher for men and 62% higher for women when compared to people of normal weigh.
Obese men are at significantly higher risk of developing colorectal cancer; the distribution of body fat appears to be an important fact, with abdominal obesity measured by waist circumference demonstrating a strong correlation with colon cancer risk. Obesity also modestly increases the risk of women developing postmenopausal breast cancer.
The costs of an obese population – direct, but also indirect Obese populations place greater stress upon healthcare systems already struggling to cope with rising expectation on what healthcare systems can deliver, more expensive medical interventions and an increasingly elderly population. The chronic nature of the condition means that obese people consume a greater share of healthcare resources, over a longer period of time.
Medical costs for obese individuals are as much as 30% to 40% higher than those with normal weight. An obese individual will on average visit a physician 27% more frequently than someone with a normal weight, and the annual extra medical costs of obesity in the US were estimated to be US$75 bn in 2003 (BMJ Wang). If current demographic trends continue, obesity-related costs are set to double every ten years, and could account for 16%-18% of US Healthcare expenditure by 2030. In the UK, data point to a similar trend, with £650 mn increased annual costs by 2020, and £2 bn higher costs by 2030 (Wang).
In addition to the direct medical costs for treating obesity, there are indirect costs to society and economies, which include early retirement and lost or lower productivity. US data suggest a direct correlation between obesity and missed work days in men, with males with a BMI above 40 taking almost six additional sick days each year. Swedish data suggest obese individuals are 1.5-1.9 times more likely to take sick leave than their peers with normal weight.
Who provides the solutions?
Before we get to the investing implication of this pandemic, we believe it’s worth spending a minute on the impact that reversal of current trends might have, and the role that various parties have played thus far to resolve this. Perhaps slightly depressingly, we believe that pharma companies alone are unlikely to be able to resolve this. Indeed we believe that a majority of this change message needs to come from government policy and social change (as we saw in the 1970s-80s with smoking).
What are the benefits if trends reverse?
Modest changes can have a dramatic impact on both an individual’s risk profile and society as a whole. A 1% reduction in BMI (approximately losing 1kg of body weight) is estimated to reduce cases of diabetes by around 2 million, and cases of cancer by around 100. However, implementation of these changes will require behavioural changes through health promotion campaigns and policy interventions to address healthy public sector food service policies. But policy and behavioural changes are not easy to implement and take time to take effect.
Pharma industry response – encouraging, but not adequate
Despite numerous attempts, the pharmaceutical industry has had limited success in addressing the primary cause of obesity (energy imbalance). Current treatments combat the consequences of obesity, e.g., through the management of hypertension, or diabetes. [ZH: perhaps the profit potential is far greater in perpetuating the underlying cause and merely treating the symptoms which have a duration that expires with the expiration of the patient?] A large number of companies have tried to develop pharmaceuticals to target energy imbalance, but the vast majority have failed owing to serious toxic effects. For example, Sanofi’s Accomplia was abandoned for suicidal ideation, Fen-Phen was withdrawn for serious cardiovascular concerns, and sibutramine was recently withdrawn following cardiovascular safety concerns.
2012 has seen the FDA approval of two new treatments for obesity, when used in conjunction with reduced calorie diets. Both Belviq (Arena Pharmaceuticals) and Qsymia (Vivus) reduce appetite and in some people can induce a negative energy balance. Both products have demonstrated safety signals which are a cause for concern, and patients receiving these products will require careful monitoring by clinicians. But, the FDA’s willingness to approve agents with clear safety signals illustrates the need for effective intervention for obesity.
One of the more serious efforts to this end was recently demonstrated by the Australian government, which evaluated several measures aimed at combating this epidemic (see exhibit below). Not surprisingly, nonpharmacological options were found to be more cost-effective in the long term, but are obviously more difficult to implement at a society level.
* * *
Another, even more dramatic health-related recent intervention was that on behalf of Mike Bloomberg and the city of New York banning sugary drinks in 16 oz containers or more.
The problem with government intervention in individual and social level consumption, is that it never works without a proper incentive system. If instead of using negative reinforcement, the government were to use positive reinforcement techniques, and for example offer each American $100/year for every pound kept below the overweight threshold every year, the results would be far more encouraging, and the costs saved in the long run would more than offset initial outlays.
Of course, this being the government, it is absolutely certain that corruption and “unintended side-effects” will intervene, that incentives will be perverted by special interests and lobby groups, and the final outcome would be a far worse one than the base case.
Which is why, sadly, the obesity epidemic will not be “fixed” in any conventional sense, but like so many other aspects of the current unsustainable socio-economic system, will merely go away on its own once the “weakest links” are eliminated by the various forces of natural (and man-made) selection in play today.
1984, Aldous Huxley, bank profits, Bernanke, Brave New World, collapse, Consumer debt, DHS, Edward Bernays, Federal Reserve, fraud, GDP, George Carlin, George Orwell, Goldman Sachs, HHS, household debt, Hoveround, median household income, medicare, National Debt, NDAA, Neil Postman, Obama, obesity, Patriot Act, Propaganda, Rascal, Revolution, Romney, Savings rate, Scam, scooters, TARP, University of Phoenix, Wall Street, Wall Street Bonuses, Wildwood
The majority of Americans seem OK with just waddling through life, accepting the lies and misinformation blasted from the boob tube and their various iGadgets by their owners, gorging themselves to death on Twinkies and Cheetos, paying 15% interest on their $10,000 rolling credit card balance, and growing ever more dependent on the welfare/warfare state to provide and protect them from accepting personal responsibility for their lives. A minority of critical thinking people have chosen to question everything they see and hear being spewed at us by the propagandist mainstream media, the corporate fascist government, and the powerful banking cabal that has an iron grip upon our throats as they choke the life out of the global economy in their never ending desire for more riches and more power.
The decline of the Great American Empire cannot be attributed to one factor or one bogeyman. There are a multitude of factors, villains, and choices made by the American people that have led to our moral, civil, social, and economic decline. The kabuki theater that passes for our electoral process is little more than a diversion from our imminent fate. Neither candidate for President has any intention of changing the course of the U.S. Titanic. Our rendezvous with destiny has been charted, and there aren’t nearly enough lifeboats. Those who built the ship and recklessly navigated it into a sea of icebergs will be the 1st into the few lifeboats. The leaders we’ve chosen, the choices we’ve made, and our unwillingness to deal with facts and reality have set in motion a disaster that cannot be averted. It’s a shame the majority of Americans have the math aptitude of a 6th grader, because the unsustainability of our empire can be calculated quite easily. Math is hard for Americans, but denial and delusion are easy.
Oddly, a couple of late September days in Wildwood NJ were able to crystalize many of the aspects of our cultural and economic decline in my mind. I should have just enjoyed the 72 degree temperatures, a few beers, and the freedom to read a book on my deck. I wish I was just oblivious to my surroundings, but my weekend in Wildwood NJ was an eye opener. Everywhere I turned I saw something that made me laugh, shake my head in disgust, or wonder how our government could have become so inane, incompetent and out of control. We all generalize based upon our preconceived beliefs, but sometimes what you see is what you get. The weekend started normally with a morning bike ride on the boardwalk with my wife and son to the Hereford lighthouse in North Wildwood. Along the way we passed the usual suspects on the boardwalk: the obese, the tattooed, the pierced, and the blue haired. I wish I was exaggerating, but I saw a dozen hoveround and rascal scooters carrying extremely obese Americans on par with this person:
If I wanted to be politically correct, I’d call the fat asses cruising on their “free” rascal scooters, the weight challenged disabled on their powered mobility enhancement vehicles. You know a trend has become a massive scam, when South Park dedicates an entire show to the shame of obesity and the scooter brigade. The majority of the scooter squad jamming up the boardwalk was less than 50 years old. They weren’t disabled. They were just too obese and lazy to wobble down the boardwalk to the next junk food joint. They were certainly in the right place. The Wildwood boardwalk is home to pizza topped with cheese fries, chocolate covered bacon, fried Oreos, funnel cake topped with powdered sugar, and 64 ounce sugar laced lemonade. The place would make Nanny Bloomberg’s head explode.
We’ve all seen the commercials for the Scooter store urging anyone on Medicare to rush in and get a power scooter or wheelchair “at little or no cost to you”. The entitlement “free shit” mentality permeates our culture. There is a cost and it is over $800 million per year, paid for by the 53% who pay Federal taxes. Records from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services show that the cost of motorized scooters and wheelchairs to the government health service for senior citizens rose 179% between 1999 and 2009, the last year for which full records are available. This data is fascinating as the number of Americans over the age of 65 only increased by 18% over this same time frame. The bill in 1999 was $259 million; in 2009 it was $723 million – and is surely over $1 billion today. This is another billion dollar scam being funded by your tax dollars, but there are no spending cuts possible according to our beloved Congressmen.
A recent report by Medicare’s inspector general also showed that 61% of the motorized wheelchairs provided to Medicare recipients in the first half of 2007 went to people who didn’t qualify for them. (Only people who cannot get around without one are supposed to be eligible.) The inspector general found that Medicare is billed an average of $4,018 for a motorized wheelchair that normally sells for $1,048. As a taxpayer, you will be shocked to find out that people are selling their “no cost” Rascal 600 B mobility scooters on eBay. I’m sure the keen eyed government drones working in the Health & Human Services agency are policing the resale of taxpayer paid for scooters. I find it amusing that scooters have various naming classes, just like BMW and Mercedes. The vast majority of people I see tooling around on their “mobility scooters” are just plain fat. They aren’t over 65 years old. On my Sunday bike ride I was flabbergasted and amused by the sight of a 350 pound woman on a Rascal with the pedal to the metal pulling a 275 pound man in a wheelchair attached by rope. The plague of slow metabolism is sweeping the countryside.
While I was relaxing on my deck reading and trying to blot out the nightmare visions of obese boomers in Rascal formation like German panzers invading Poland, a brand new SUV pulled into the parking lot across the street. After five minutes, the driver’s side door opened and out sidled a four foot five, two hundred and fifty pound female senior citizen in all her girth. She waddled to the back of the SUV and opened the hatch to extract her walker with wheels. She began berating the three hundred pound dude that got out of the passenger side to come and get his walker. Then she motored off towards Laura’s Fudge, while her hubby conserved his energy waiting by the SUV. Minutes later she scooted her way back hauling a sack of fudge. They then trundled off towards the boardwalk, most likely headed for Kohrs Bros for a double dipped fudge ice cream cone or some Boardwalk fries smothered in cheese.
Based upon my unscientific assessment of the people walking on the Wildwood boardwalk, I would conclude that 35% of the people are obese, 40% are overweight by 20 or 30 pounds (myself included), and 25% are in relatively good shape. After checking the government statistics, my assessment appears to be accurate. Who is to blame? The easy answer is to just blame the individual for their lack of self-restraint and inability to contain their impulses. But when you consider that 160 million out of 232 million adults in this country are either overweight or obese, along with 11 million adolescents, there must be something more sinister behind the phenomenon. There is no doubt that a major portion of the blame must be laid at the fat feet of those who could have exercised restraint over their cravings, but the words of master propagandist Edward Bernays provides another factor in the equation:
“If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without them knowing it.” – Edward Bernays
Bernays reveals a truth that is self-evident to those with critical thinking skills. Sadly, few Americans exhibit any thinking skills whatsoever. Our society has bifurcated into those who control and those who are controlled. The overlord Double Plus Alphas in our society consist of the Wall Street banker cabal, the executives of our mega-corporations, Federal Reserve governors, Washington DC politicians, Federal government apparatchiks, the propaganda experts in the mainstream corporate media, and the secretive billionaire set that manipulate and maneuver behind the scenes. The first step in controlling the Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons, as Aldous Huxley knew in 1931, was to indoctrinate them with propaganda in our government run schools. This mission has been accomplished. The vast majority of school children graduate from the government school system with no ability to think critically or question what has been spoon fed to them as facts. The fascist alliance of corporations and the state begin in the public schools, with product advertisements by corporations now subsidizing school budgets. The road to obesity is paved with chicken nuggets, fries and pizza dispensed by the government schools on a daily basis.
Just as in Huxley’s Brave New World, America has been built upon the principles of Henry Ford’s assembly line—mass production, homogeneity, predictability, and consumption of disposable consumer goods. In the dystopian novel, members of every class, from birth, are indoctrinated by recorded voices repeating slogans while they sleep. Huxley didn’t imagine the power of TV and other mass media outlets to do the same while we are awake. We are bombarded day and night by propaganda from mega-corporations to buy their products. Mass consumption of processed food sold by the likes of multi-billion dollar corporations Kraft, Pepsico, Coca Cola, General Mills, Nestle, and Unilever is the chief cause of the obesity epidemic in America. The few know how to manipulate the many through messaging, repetition and persistently molding the opinions of the feeble minded non-thinking masses. The billions spent by corporations on advertising to convince the masses that eating a Wendy’s Baconator, KFC extra crispy bucket, or Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese, washed down with a two liter Mountain Dew or Cherry Coke, is a tribute to the invisible government running the show. Huxley and Bernays had it all figured out eighty years ago:
“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.” – Edward Bernays, Propaganda, 1928
The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the masses by the invisible government Alphas has transmuted citizens into overweight, non-thinking, debt dependent, egocentric consumers. This was not a mistake. The powerful interests used their control over the banking system, media outlets, and political system to lure the willfully ignorant into a debt financed lifestyle through the Federal Reserve created inflation, Wall Street peddled credit cards, auto loans and “creative” mortgages. The manipulators convinced the manipulated that borrowing today to buy houses, cars, bling, tech gadgets, clothing, and fast food was preferable to what previous generations of Americans had done – save to buy things they wanted or needed. This behavior seems to be completely irrational as a people that once saved 12% of their income and carried a moderate amount of debt chose to reduce their savings to 0% and not worry about tomorrow.
It is easier to understand when you realize who benefitted from this purposeful shift in societal norms. The low debt, high savings, production era from 1950 through 1980 benefitted the working middle class, allowing millions to improve their standard of living. The rising debt, low savings, consumption era, from 1980 through today, benefits the 1% Alphas while impoverishing the middle class and sentencing the lower class to a lifetime of dependent servitude to the state. Who benefitted from debt fueled conspicuous consumption and continues to benefit today? The peddlers of consumer debt on Wall Street and the mega-corporations that convinced Americans they couldn’t live without that 5,500 square foot McMansion, BMW X5, stainless steel appliances, 84 inch 3D HDTV, iPhone 5, diamond encrusted Coach handbag, and thousands of other Chinese made trinkets that pile up in underwater homes across the land, benefitted tremendously. The proliferation of debt resulted in obscene profits for the financial sector, record profits for the mega-corporations that shipped production to Asia in order to take advantage of the slave labor, and three decades of wage stagnation and increasing debt for the average working middle class American.
The financialization of America was a conscious decision by the oligarchs. They controlled the issuance of credit. They controlled the currency and level of inflation inflicted upon the masses. They controlled the corporations selling consumer goods on credit. They controlled the Congress, courts, and government agencies with their deep pocket lobbying and buying of influence. Lastly, they controlled the media messages and molded the opinions and tastes of the masses through their Bernaysian propaganda techniques perfected over the decades. In one of the boldest and most blatant acts of audacity in world history, the Wall Street/K Street oligarchs wrecked the world economy in their insatiable thirst for profits, shifted their worthless debt onto the backs of taxpayers and unborn generations, threw senior citizens and savers under the bus by stealing $400 billion per year of interest from them, and enriched themselves with bubble level profits and bonus payouts. Meanwhile, median household income continues to fall, real GDP is stagnant, true unemployment exceeds 22%, and 47 million people are living on food stamps.
The propaganda being flogged by the oligarchs since 2009 is the supposed deleveraging by the American consumer and trying to convince the ignorant masses to resume borrowing and spending. It’s working. Consumer credit outstanding is at an all-time high of $2.73 trillion as the Federal government has dished out billions in student loans to 50,000 University of Phoenix MBA aspirants sitting in their basements quivering with anticipation of on-line graduation and future six figure job with Goldman Sachs. The Feds have also added the impetus to the “strong” auto sales through their 85% TARP ownership of Ally Financial by doling out 7 year 0% auto loans to subprime borrowers in urban enclaves around the country. The oligarchs aren’t worried about these loans being paid back, because they are reaping the profits today. The future losses will just be foisted onto the taxpayer, as always. Total credit market debt of $55 trillion now exceeds 350% of GDP. The National Debt of $16.2 trillion will exceed $20 trillion in 2015 no matter who wins the Presidency in November. The oligarchs adapt and control whoever occupies the White House. It is essential for our owners to keep debt growing at an exponential rate or the Ponzi scheme collapses.
Narrow minded ideologues want a simple answer to a complex interaction of generational, cultural, economic, political, and criminal factors that have conspired to put the country into a predicament that, at this point, will inevitably lead to economic collapse. The truth is the American people have learned to love their servitude. They have willfully chosen ignorance over truth. They’ve chosen to believe what their keepers have instructed them. They’ve chosen to trust the storylines generated by the corporate media rather than think critically and question everything. They’ve chosen obesity and sickness over health. They’ve chosen debt financed faux wealth over savings based real wealth. They’ve chosen safety and security over liberty. They’ve chosen dependency over self-reliance. These choices were aided, abetted and promoted by the Alphas through their ability to manipulate and control the unthinking masses. Huxley understood the power of propaganda and brainwashing decades before it was perfected by our owners.
“There will be, in the next generation or so, a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods. And this seems to be the final revolution.” – Aldous Huxley
The saddest part of this episode of the Decline & Fall of the American Empire reality show is the continued delusion of the majority of the populace, as their desire for material goods and fair share of the entitlement pie outweighs their sense of obligation to their children and grandchildren. Their chosen ignorance is fulfilled through their attachment to their personal digital ignorance gadgets and supported by what passes for government education. The truth is obscured and hidden under waves of triviality, reality TV, and data manipulation by our government masters. The dystopian nightmare that engulfs our country has thus far resembled Huxley’s vision of a shallow populace easily distracted by consumerism, pleasure seeking, cultural trivialities, and a never ending ability to be distracted by meaningless minutia. Orwell’s darker vision of surveillance, captivity, information control, authoritarianism and pain will become the norm once the existing social order falls.
“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that our desire will ruin us.” – Neil Postman – Amusing Ourselves to Death
I despair for my country that has chosen to eat, amuse and borrow itself to death. But my despair is deepest for my children and their future. The greed, corruption, myopia, selfishness, and disregard for the well-being of future generations by current and past generations has left a barren and bleak landscape for my children. The Huxley vision of America consuming and amusing itself to death is coming to a painful conclusion, as the limits of a fiat currency and debt based lifestyle become evident. Those in power are preparing the masses for a more Orwellian vision of America when they are forced to pull the plug on the existing paradigm. The Patriot Act, NDAA, military exercises in our cities, militarization of local police forces, warrantless surveillance of our communications, searches and seizures in our airports and train stations, purchase of millions of rounds of ammo by government agencies, implementation of drone technology, camera surveillance, attempts to control the internet, manipulation of economic data, and executive orders allowing the President to take over all commerce while imprisoning citizens indefinitely without charges, are the next step in our descent into a dictatorship of tears.
The question is whether we will stand idly by, fiddling with our gadgets, tweeting about Honey Boo Boo, or will we regain our sense of duty to the future generations of this country. The manipulators are powerful, rich, connected and FEW. Those being manipulated, controlled, and abused are MANY. There will be a revolution in this country whether you like it or not. The existing social order will dissolve during the next fifteen years. What replaces it is up to us. George Carlin described what our owners want.
“Politicians are put there to give you that idea that you have freedom of choice. You don’t. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you. They own everything. They own all the important land, they own and control the corporations, and they’ve long since bought and paid for the Senate, the Congress, the State Houses, and the City Halls. They’ve got the judges in their back pockets. And they own all the big media companies so they control just about all the news and information you get to hear.
They’ve got you by the balls.
They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying to get what they want. Well, we know what they want; they want more for themselves and less for everybody else. But I’ll tell you what they don’t want—they don’t want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don’t want well informed, well educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that. That doesn’t help them. That’s against their interest.”
What do “We the People” want?
This should get AWD’s blood pumping on a Monday. Evidently the people producing this study have not seen Hunger Games. It will be tough to be obese when there is no food available and you are forced to work 14 hours per day in mines.
No Country For Thin Men: 75% Of Americans To Be Obese By 2020
Submitted by Tyler Durdenon 03/26/2012 10:25 -0400
While much heart palpitations are generated every month based on how much of a seasonal adjustment factor is used to fudge US employment, many forget that a much more serious long term issue for the US (assuming anyone cares what happens in the long run) is a far more ominous secular shift in US population – namely the fact that everyone is getting fatter fast, aka America’s “obesity epidemic.” And according to a just released analysis by BNY ConvergEx’ Nicholas Colas, things are about to get much worse, because as the OECD predicts, by 2020 75% of US the population will be obese. What this implies for the tens of trillions in underfunded healthcare “benefits” in the future is all too clear. In the meantime, thanks to today’s economic “news”, fat people everywhere can get even fatter courtesy of ever freer money from the Chairman, about to be paradropped once more to keep nominal prices high and devalue the dollar even more in the great “race to debase”. Our advices – just pretend you are going to college and take out a $100,000 loan, spending it all on Taco Bells. But don’t forget to save enough for the latest iPad, and the next latest to be released in a few weeks, ad inf.
Summary: It’s a shocking anomaly that a highly developed country with the world’s largest GDP also has the world’s most obvious obesity endemic. Nearly 34% of United States citizens are obese, which is triple the rate of most of its peer countries. Notably, Americans both drink and smoke less than much of the industrialized world, making this problem all the more puzzling. The causes appear to be largely cultural, with low food costs playing a supporting role. Obesity in the U.S. is more prevalent along certain groups, but by some estimates an astounding 3 out of 4 Americans will be obese or overweight by 2020. The obvious comparison here is to smoking, a public health challenge that has declined in popularity for decades due to higher taxes and public awareness of the risks involved. The answers to the obesity problem will be much tougher, however. And with widespread use of government money for Food Stamps (+20% of all households) and school lunches (+30% of all children), the Federal government is squarely in the middle of the debate.
Consider some wacky “all-American” dining options. Burger King’s Manhattan Whopper Bar offers an aptly-named “Pizza Burger”– a ginormous cheeseburger accentuated by pepperoni and chopped into 6 slices. Denny’s spices up the classic but boring grilled cheese by driving 4 mozzarella sticks into the already gooey cheddar goodness (Fried Cheese Melt). And IHOP delivers fluffy pancakes stuffed with hunks of cheesecake drowning in whipped cream and splashed with powdered sugar (New York Cheesecake Pancakes). Not to mention they’re only 4 bucks.
Not to be outdone, Las Vegas is home to another appropriately named (and self-proclaimed) producer of “nutritional pornography” – the Heart Attack Grill. Menu options include a “Quadruple Bypass Burger,” “ButterFat Shake” and all-you-can-eat “Flatliner Fries.” If you’re over 350 pounds you eat for free, and shots are served in 4 ounce pours. The restaurant made headlines last month when a 40-something man suffered a heart attack (what else?) while chowing down in its dining room. Go ahead, you can chuckle – he’s alive and kicking somewhere out West. At the time of his heart attack he’d been eating the 6,000 calorie “Triple Bypass Burger” featuring 3 half-pound patties, half a fried onion, cheese, and 15 slices of bacon.
So is it really any surprise that 1 in 3 Americans are obese? The United States has a bigger obesity problem than any other industrialized country in the world, with a 33.8% obesity rate, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Note that obesity is defined according to a body mass index (BMI), which calculates human body fat based on weight and height. BMI readings of 30 or greater signify obesity, while a score between 25 and 30 indicates “overweightness.”
A typical man of 5’10” should weigh, for example, about 170 pounds. The U.S.’s next closest “competitor” is Mexico with a 30% obesity rate, while Canada and the U.K. have rates of 24% and 23%, respectively. Other highly developed countries such as Germany, Italy and France have rates below 15%, and Japan is all the way down at 3.9%. India’s citizens are the trimmest, with a 2.1% obesity rate. The average for the 34 OECD member countries is 16.9% – exactly half that of the United States.
Obesity is one obvious culprit for the exorbitant amount of money that Americans spend on health care. Health expenditures (including capital investment in health care infrastructure) are just shy of $8,000 a year per person, which is almost 50% more than in any other country, and represents nearly one-fifth of total GDP. Expenditures in Norway and Switzerland, numbers 2 and 3 on the list, represent a little more than $5,000 per person. The Brits spend about $3,500 a person, while the Japanese spend just $2,900 per person. Indonesia brings up the rear with only $99 spent per capita, although that comparison is obviously skewed by its emerging economy status.
Despite access to high-quality health care services, facilities and infrastructure, Americans live 78.2 years on average, or more than a year less than the OECD member nation average of 79.5 years. Our neighbors to the north and nearly all of our European counterparts live somewhere between 80 and 82 years, while the Japanese live longer than anyone else (83 years).
Just to quickly check off a couple of obvious other behavioral/health boxes, we know our lives generally aren’t cut short by smoking or excessive alcohol consumption. Sixteen percent of Americans are daily smokers, compared with the OECD average of 22.1%. In France, for example, more than 1 in 4 people are regular smokers, while a whopping 40% of Greeks fess up to having at least one daily smoke. Comparatively we don’t drink that much either. On average for ages 15 and up, Americans consume 8.8 liters (298 ounces) of alcohol annually. The OECD average is 9.1 liters, and the French top the chart (surprise, surprise) at 12.3 liters.
There’s no denying that the mortality rate phenomenon is at least somewhat of an obesity issue. In the U.S., Japan and select industrialized European countries, the correlation between obesity rates and life expectancy is greater than 80% (refer to this chart and several others following the text ). Obesity is a disease and while it isn’t often listed as a “Cause of Death” the outcomes are deadly. Since the cardiovascular system is the number one affected area when someone is overweight, it should come as no surprise that more people die from heart attacks in the U.S. than in most other countries. For every 100,000 Americans, 129 die from a heart attack. The OECD average is 117, while in the “fit” countries of Japan and Korea heart attack fatalities occur in fewer than 40 out of 100,000 people.
As far as root causes, it’s a basic economic principle that people consume more of things that are cheaper, and food in the U.S. is relatively cheap compared to the rest of the world. The food component represents 14% of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), meaning that on average 14% of our total expenditures is spent on food.However, the “Food at home” component of the CPI is a mere 8%, and since most Americans eat most of their meals at home, this is likely a more logical number to use. In China and India, on the other hand, food weightings in their respective inflation indexes are 31% and 27%. Yes, this is clearly the result of lower incomes and food prices set to a large degree by global trends; the correlation/causation to consumption is still valid, however. The Chinese and Indians rank in the bottom 3 in terms of obesity rates, at 2.9% and 2.1%, respectively. As for more economically comparable countries, Canada (17% of CPI), Australia (17%), Italy (16%) and the U.K. (11%) have more similar food component cost weightings to the U.S.’s, and their citizens are substantially slimmer. Either way (economic or cultural explanation), mass industrialization of farms and food processing in the States has resulted in a dramatic lower food prices and an unmistakable trend to overconsumption.
Perhaps Americans work so much that we simply don’t have time to be active. After all, we work more than anyone else in the world, right? Wrong. We take less time off, but in terms of hours worked per week, we have it pretty good. At an average of 33.6 hours per week, Americans actually work less than the French (37.6 hours per week), who have a reputation for more slack work habits. People in the U.S. also work less than those in Japan (40.7 hours per week) and Turkey (49.7 hours per week), but the Japanese and Turkish have much lower obesity rates, as do the French.
However, while we work just as much as (if not more than) most other people, Americans take fewer vacation days. Including paid public holidays and voluntary vacation time, workers in the U.S. have an average of 25 days off per year. This compares with 40 in France, 36 in the U.K. and 31 in Italy, for example. Brazilians take the most time off (41 days), while Canadians take the least (19 days). Vacation time doesn’t appear to be correlated to obesity, but helps to validate the notion that Americans are among the hardest-working people in the world, even if hours worked are in line with other countries.
We’re left with a rather unspecific, and somewhat unsatisfying, conclusion that the obesity endemic in America is caused by broad cultural factors and personal responsibility issues. High-risk groups include African-American and Mexican-American women, who have respective obesity rates of 46% and 35%, and those in lower income groups. Women with lower levels of educational achievement are 1.3 times more likely to be obese, though virtually no disparity exists among men of varying education levels. And Southerners and Midwesterners carry more weight than their Northern and Western counterparts.
Nonetheless, 75% of Americans will be obese or overweight by 2020, according to OECD projections. We’ll have to see how the ongoing national health care debate plays out, but this undoubtedly means more government spending in terms of both preventative care and educational programs. In its food stamp program, the government has already begun educating recipients on nutrition, yet soft drinks, candy, cookies and ice cream are eligible items for purchase with food stamp benefits. I would expect this to change considering we’re on track to be 40% obese in the next decade, and likely even more government intervention will be necessary to curb some culturally-ingrained bad habits.
In an admittedly altruistic way, the U.S. government is a major enabler to the obesity problem. While we’re not debating the necessity of food stamps, they do provide incremental spending power, and the fact that lower-income people are more likely to be obese means that the government has a profound responsibility to ramp up nutritional education and hone in on the obesity problem. With +20% of households using food stamps, keep in mind that any policy shift will be significant for a wide swath of companies from supermarkets to producers of food.
So far government efforts have been mostly ineffective “nudges.” Policies enacted in the past few years that mandate calorie labeling in fast-food and chain restaurants have thus far had no impact on calorie consumption, according to a recently-published study (link below). While relying on people to use nutritional information to make healthier meal choices wasn’t effective, giving customers at a fast-food restaurant the option of downsizing their dishes did in fact work. About a third of customers opted for the smaller portion (versus less than 1% who asked to downsize on their own) and subsequently ate less. And accepting the downsized option had no effect on the amount of food uneaten at the end of the meal, translating into even more calorie savings. People in the study generally didn’t have the self-control to make smarter nutritional choices on their own, but it seems that some sense of self-control was activated when they were pushed to make healthier decisions.
With proof that intervention can in fact work, the Federal government has a role to play, whether it likes it or not. When you’re handing over money for food to 1 in 5 households and when about a third of all children are in notoriously non-nutritious subsidized school lunch programs, there’s certainly a moral responsibility.
Obesity is essentially the “Smoking” of the 21st century. And just as smoking rates were lessened thanks to government intervention, the obesity problem will need governmental action as well. Yes, it’s been written about countless times and there aren’t any immediate investment implications, but this topic is worth having in the back of your mind. The answers here are not as obvious as cigarette smoking; no one is going to back higher food taxes to reduce consumption. But the problem is significant and costly to the U.S. economy.
Link to study on effectiveness of calorie-labeling: http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/31/2/399.abstract
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