Obesity Will Cost the Future

Day of the Dead SkullsIt seems like every time you turn around, another bleak prediction appears. In 2014, The Lancet revealed that about 2.1 billion of the Earth’s inhabitants—about one-third of the entire population—were overweight. And of that number, about 670 million qualified for obesity status.

Earlier this year, the same journal published a six-part series on the obesity epidemic.  Working with numbers that went up to 2010, it was determined that only one out of every four nations had healthful eating policies in place, and none of them had experienced a declining obesity rate. Zeroing in on the U.S., the researchers who put the series together learned that American kids currently consume a lot more calories, on average, than they did 40 years ago.

This extra consumption works out as an extra $400-worth of food being consumed per child per year, adding up to an extra $20 billion in annual sales for the US food industry.

The practical significance of this figure was voiced by the World Obesity Foundation’s Dr. Tim Lobstein, who said, “Fat children are an investment in future sales.” Aggressive marketing by corporations obsessed with profit is seen as a huge problem. St. Francis Xavier supposedly said, “Give me the child until he is seven and I’ll give you the man.” Or maybe it was St. Ignatius. Either way, the food industry has grasped the basic principle and is holding on tight. David McNamee of MedicalNewsToday.com says:

Taste preferences and brand loyalty are established during infancy, so the industry pushes highly processed foods and sweetened drinks on children from a young age.

Such large agencies as the World Obesity Foundation and the World Health Organization face issues they could not have foreseen four decades ago, like the paradox of undernourishment and obesity existing not only in the same countries, but even in the same populations.

Obesity is a Low Priority

Generally, national governments have more pressing matters to attend to than policing the food industry. The mellower ones allow their citizens freedom to eat and drink what they please, and even the tyrannical ones seem to have other areas they would rather be bossy about. Even when a government is benignly and legitimately concerned about the selling of obesity, it is more expedient to trust in the food industry’s “voluntary initiatives” (a.k.a. self-regulation). Manufacturers and advertisers promise to behave themselves and play nice. Governments pat them on their heads, sigh with relief, and move on to more pressing matters.

Of course, this laissez-faire attitude has a price. Sooner or later, the medical costs of widespread obesity become apparent, and the number-crunchers who extrapolate current expenses into the future tend to produce figures that cause gasps of horror. The lead author of The Lancet series, Prof. Boyd Swinburn, discusses what needs to be done:

The key to meeting WHO’s target to achieve no further increase in obesity rates by 2025 will be strengthening accountability systems to support government leadership, constraining the role of the food industry in the formation of public policy, and encouraging civil society to create a demand for healthy food environments.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “A fat investment opportunity,” Moneyweb.co.za, 04/16/15
Source: “Global obesity response is ‘unacceptably slow,’ according to experts,” MedicalNewsToday.com, 02/19/15
Image by Eden, Janine and Jim

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