A report by Trust for America’s Health estimates that obesity in the US could reach over 60% within 20 years. If obesity continues to rise at the current rate, the impact will threaten America’s future with over half of adults in 13 states clinically obese.
The cost to health and to society is high; obese adults are at risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and obesity-related cancer. If incidents of obesity rise, so too will the cost of treating obesity related diseases. In the report “F is for Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2012”, researchers estimate that obesity related medical costs could reach $66 billion dollars and loss in economic productivity, $390 billion.
“Two Futures for American Health”
The report presents two futures; a bleak 2030 projected on the data of current reported obesity rates and the other, a potential future possible only if BMIs of obese adults reduce by 5%. For example, in a 6ft man weighing 200 pounds, a 5% BMI reduction would be a loss of 10lbs.
Although difficult to calculate, researchers roughly estimate the number of lives that could be saved from preventable illness in each state if a 5% BMI reduction was achieved as follows:
• Type 2 diabetes: 14,389 in Alaska to 796,430 in California;
• Coronary heart disease and stroke: 11,889 in Alaska to 656,970 in California;
• Hypertension: 10,826 in Alaska to 698,431 in California;
• Arthritis: 6,858 in Wyoming to 387,850 in California; and
• Obesity-related cancer: 809 in Alaska to 52,769 in California.
“We know a lot more about how to prevent obesity than we did 10 years ago,” said Jeff Levi, PhD, executive director of TFAH. “This report outlines how policies like increasing physical activity time in schools and making fresh fruits and vegetables more affordable can help make healthier choices easier. Small changes can add up to a big difference. Policy changes can help make healthier choices easier for Americans in their daily lives.”
The report makes a number of recommendations and calls for funding to match the scale of the problem that the country will be facing in less than 20 years, including –
- implement the Healthy, Hunger FreeKids Act to update nutrition standards for snack foods and meals in schools
- increase investment in obesity-prevention programs
- finalize the Interagency Working group on Food Marketed to Children Guidelines
- Make physical education and physical activity a priority in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act;
- Fully support healthy nutrition in federal food programs
The Healthy, Hunger- Free Kids Act passed in 2010 is the first school food reform in 30 years. The legislation authorizes funding and sets policy for a number of core nutrition programmes including the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program and the Summer Food Service Program.
But where the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act” is an enforceable legislation, the rules governing the marketing of food outside of school is to follow voluntary guidelines that companies can choose to adopt. The Interagency Working Group’s (IWG) has drafted “Voluntary Guidelines on Food Marketed to Children” – recommendations that food businesses are free to adopt or ignore. Snack attack protection will only be inside the parameters of schools and other federal institutions.
The UK has recently had a taste of the sophisticated US food marketing strategies. Kraft, after taking over Cadbury in 2010, has introduced a dizzying array of new products; energy rich and nutrient poor and targeted at lower socio economic groups. Cadburys has made growth of 2.2% in the UK alone- a rate of growth 80% faster than the UK market according to the Telegraph. Nick Bunker, KP Snacks CEO, told the Telegraph that “out-innovating” is responsible for the company’s growth.
Health has never been a part of the convenience food business plan. Companies selling high fat, high sugar treats or “Fast Moving Consumer Goods” (FMCGs) have seen profits rise in the global recession. Voluntary guidelines are not a viable commercial option for businesses competing in an aggressive consumer market. With the middle classes opting for organic and ‘free from’ snack options, companies have to jostle harder still for the poor man’s pound – the very socio economic group more at risk of poor diet and ill health.
Any future preventative obesity campaign will need to “out-innovate” too if it is to succeed in its aim to reduce obesity cases and aim for a healthier future for America.
“This study shows us two futures for America’s health,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “At every level of government, we must pursue policies that preserve health, prevent disease and reduce health care costs. Nothing less is acceptable.”
F is for Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2012
BBC article – global obesity
Summary of Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act 2010
Telegraph – Cadbury and Kraft