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Obesity — Big is Beautiful?

How much longer can affluent societies ignore the increasing health problems associated with obesity?

February 27, 2004

How much longer can affluent societies ignore the increasing health problems associated with obesity?

Obesity is defined as an excessively high amount of body fat in relation to lean body mass. Thanks to lousy eating habits and lack of exercise, the number of obese people has been growing worldwide. Just as was the case with smoking and alcoholism, the increase in obesity has set off some alarm bells over present and future health costs. Our Globalist Factsheet digests some heavy numbers.

What is obesity?

As of 2003, severe obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) (a standard measure of weight to height) of at least 40 which typically translates into at least 100 pounds overweight.
(Washington Post)

How does that translate into real people?

A 5-foot-10 man is severely obese if he weighs 300 pounds. A 5-foot-4 woman is severely obese at 250 pounds.
(Washington Post)

What is the situation worldwide?

As of 2002, about 170 million children in poor countries are underweight because of lack of food. But more than a billion adults in North America, Europe and middle income countries are thought to be obese or overweight.
(World Health Organization)

How many of them are obese?

As of 2003, there are an estimated 300 million obese adults worldwide — up from 200 million in 1995.
(The Economist)

How big are Americans?

As of 1999-2000, 34% of U.S. adults are said to be overweight, while 31% are described as obese. By comparison, as of 1976-1980, 32% of Americans were said to be overweight — while only 14% were obese.
(American Obesity Association)

Has the problem increased in other countries, too?

As of 2003, 39% of Australians over the age of 25 are overweight and 20.8% obese — 2.5 times the levels found in the last comparable study in 1980.
(International Diabetes Institute)

Are the British getting heavier?

Between 1982 and 2002, adult obesity rates in Great Britain have tripled. Some 19% are obese — and 39% overweight.

Which groups in the United States tend to gain too much weight?

As of 2002, 64% of black women are overweight, compared with 57% of Hispanic women — and 43% of white women.
(Washington Post)

What about U.S. teenagers?

In 2000, nearly 16% of 12- to 19-year-olds in the United States were overweight — an increase of nearly 5 percentage points form the early 1990s.
(Center for Disease Control and Prevention)

Are British children going down the same road?

Between 1982 and 2002, the number of British obese children has doubled. About 10% of six-year old are obese. The number for 15-year olds is 17%.

What are the costs of obesity?

In 2001, about 300,000 people died in the United States from obesity-related illnesses — which are estimated to generate health care costs of $117 billion annually.
(The Observer)

How high are the costs for the U.S. taxpayers?

As of 2003, obesity related heart problems, diabetes and other chronic illnesses cost the United States $75 billion annually — of which nearly $40 billion come from public taxes.
(Center for Disease Control and Prevention)

Does fast food contribute to weight gains?

As of 2002, a Big Mac, super-sized fries and a super-sized Coke — even with fewer trans fatty acids and saturated fats — come with more than 1,600 calories. About 2,000 is recommended per day.
(New York Times)

Does McDonald's adapt to local health concerns elsewhere?

As of 2002, McDonald’s has been using oil low in trans fat in Europe for several years.
(Washington Post)

Which profession is looking for heavy people?

Between 1990 and 2002, the number of National Football League players who weigh more than 300 pounds or more has grown six-fold — from 50 to 300.
(Washington Post)

Does the whole body gain — or do other parts diminish?

Rats fed a diet with 40% of calories from fat — about what the average American eats — failed learning and memory tests that a group which was fed lower-fat food was able to complete.
(University of Toronto)

Who makes fat profits out of over-indulgence?

Americans spend more than $30 billion a year on weight-loss products or programs.
(Washington Post)

Do Westerners spend the most on such products?

As of 2002, the global slimming-products and services industry (excluding non-prescription weight-loss medication) is worth about $12 billion annually. As much as 10% of those sales are estimated to come from Asia.

Is radical surgery becoming a more attractive option?

In 2002, 63,100 weight-reduction operations were performed in the United States — up from 23,100 five years ago.
(American Society for Bariatric Surgery)

And finally, what is another health concern for big people?

As of 2003, people weighing between 100 and 119 kilograms (220 and 262 pounds) are almost two-and-a-half times more likely to die in a car crash than people weighing less than 60 kilograms (132 pounds). The reason is that seatbelts and air bags are designed for average-sized people — and car interiors might not be suitably designed for heavier people.
(Royal Automobile Club)