Current global obesity epidemic — What’s the solution?
Obesity rates are rising! Not shocked? That’s because this is not new news. Every year the figures get worse, and despite many healthcare, fitness, and medical professionals trying to start conversations and suggest solutions, the years following always come up with even more frightening statistics and findings.
In 2017, a report was published by the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) based on 25 years of research into obesity. The study was one of the largest of its kind and included data from 195 countries that were monitored, captured and analysed between 1980 and 2015.
What did the report find? Between 1980 and 2015 obesity rates have doubled in more than 70 of the 195 countries included.
As of 2015, 1 out of 10 people worldwide is obese. Of that 1 in 10, 604 million were adults and 105 million were children (<20 years).
We already know that excess weight and obesity are not just uncomfortable to live with. Sitting in this weight range significantly increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, some cancers and musculoskeletal conditions. As backed up — yet again — by the NEJM report.
Sadly, the report advised that excess weight was responsible for 4 million deaths in 2015 alone. With 70 per cent of those deaths the result of cardiovascular disease, and 41 per cent the outcome of type 2 diabetes.
What is most alarming about the death toll above is that 39 per cent of the individuals affected where overweight, NOT obese.
Also calculated in the NEJM report, is the number of disability-adjusted life-years worldwide in just 2015: 120 million.
120 million collective years, belonging to people on this planet, severely impacted by the consequences of an unhealthy lifestyle.
If you take nothing else away from this section, let it be that simply living with excess weight — even long before you reach obesity — can lead you to add your years to the truly grim numbers above.
Who is leading the pack?
According to the OECD Obesity Update Study, released in 2017, the US has the highest obesity rates at 38.2 per cent. Following closely behind is Mexico, at 38.2 per cent, with New Zealand making up the top three at 30.7 per cent.
For children, the USA wins again with 13 per cent of their kids (under 20 years old) currently dealing with obesity.
In Australia, between 2014 and 2015, it was reported that we had an obesity rate of 28.6 per cent amongst adults. Not good. But also not too bad when you compare it to the US. What’s seriously alarming, however, is that when the report extends to include those classed as overweight, the number of obese and overweight adults in Australia reaches a shocking 63 per cent of our population!
Again, the numbers are also bleak for children, with 26 per cent of Aussie kids falling within an overweight or obese size range.
Why is this happening?
The world has shifted from farming and labour to office jobs. Even if you aren’t in an office, automation, forklifts and other machinery and equipment have replaced the backbreaking and sweaty work that was once done by our blue-collar workforce. Whether you’re white-collar or blue-collar, the odds are you’re spending the majority of your day on your backside.
Combine this sedentary work and home lifestyle with a high calorie diet and voilà, we have some issues.
The common explanation for this epidemic is that the cause of obesity and overweight is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended. Simple, right? So why are people not changing their behaviours to balance it again?
While I can’t say for sure, I would hazard a guess that it is a lack of support. With more than half the population overweight it is easier to find allies to validate bad habits than it is to find support to change them. Then, if you live in an urban environment you have temptation on every corner and advertisements on every channel — how can one resist?
The true cost
Of course, your health is what truly cops the costs. As we all know by now, excess weight increases your risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular (heart) disease, stroke, various cancers, and musculoskeletal conditions. And once you have most of these, your chances of coming out the other side with zero consequences are slim.
Globally, as we become a sicker society, there is increased pressure applied to our healthcare systems which is leading to a lack of availability for beds. This can mean long wait times and increased prices.
Yes, that’s right. Just in case damaged health doesn’t strike fear into your heart, let’s look instead at the monetary cost obesity and overweight puts onto the individuals suffering, and often times their families who are left to look after them.
As of 2015, the average cost for an inpatient hospital bed was $1,878 USD ($2,627 AUD) per day. What’s important to remember is that is just the cost of the bed. Treatment is where you can expect to see your money disappear, particularly if you have cardiovascular issues — one of the most common diseases caused by obesity and overweight — where treatment can be up over $10,000 USD ($13,992 AUD).
These figures are slightly better in Australia, where the cost of a hospital bed is still under $1,000 but including treatment, you’re looking at around $3,000 per day. A sum the average person is going to greatly miss, particularly if obesity has rendered them unable to work.
What are the solutions?
Discussions around excess weight and obesity are not new, so it is naive to think that simply producing statistics is going to affect real change. Ultimately we see the solutions coming from three angles:
No government campaign, personal trainer or fitness app can force someone to change their lifestyle to improve their health. This has to start first with the individual. This should include limiting your intake of high-calorie foods, increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts, and getting the necessary physical activity — 150 minutes a week — to balance your calorie intake.
Not everyone has the opportunity to take their health into their own hands. Think of the 1/4 of kids who are on the road to obesity before they’ve even had the opportunity to look after themselves. Junk food needs to be removed in schools, and education needs to be spread to parents to help them create healthier environments for their kids. For the wider community, we need to be mindful that we are offering healthy options for events and gatherings, and properly educating ourselves and others about labelling and critically analysing misleading marketing.
Where these first two have struggled to get cut through, we believe technology will succeed. We are seeing an increase in fitness trackers, diet trackers, and trends toward adopting in-home workouts thanks to the Wii, apps and YouTube. With new technology, this can go even further with improved programs and far greater incentives; including rewarding users with tokens for sharing their fitness data. Making it financially valuable for them to invest in their health.
PUML is leading the pack in fuelling the sweat economy and working to reduce obesity and overweight numbers by empowering individuals to take control of their fitness data and use it to be rewarded. If health hasn’t been enough of an incentive, we believe financial rewards add encouragement.
Follow us on Telegram to learn more about how you can own and profit from your fitness data.