Three Distinctly Different Tracks for Obesity Trends

Obesity trends are following distinctly different tracks in different populations. For health policymakers deeply invested in established policies for addressing obesity, the temptation is great to gloss over the the disparate experiences and trends. But the differences are too stark to ignore.

  1. High Socioeconomic Status Populations. After decades of leading the world with growing obesity rates, American public health officials are pleased to publicize reports like the 2013 edition of “America’s Health Rankings.” For the first time in decades, this report showed a flat obesity rate between 2012 and 2013. The report is jointly published by the United Health Foundation, the American Public Health Association, and the Partnership for Prevention. A recent analysis published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences found that obesity rates dropped by half between 2003 and 2010 in adolescents whose parents have a  four-year college degree.
  2. Developing Countries. Obesity rates in developing countries are snowballing. A recent report from the Overseas Development Institute documents a quadrupling in the number of people with obesity. Developing countries with rising incomes — like Egypt and Mexico — have led this trend. Rising incomes have led to diets with more fat and sugar that fuel the trend.
  3. Severely Affected Populations. Populations with high rates of severe obesity are being left behind as prevention strategies meet the needs of less severely affected populations and treatment is too often left out of the policy making conversation. According to Richard deShazo at the University of Mississippi, the situation in his state is so dire that a third of the population will have diabetes by 2030. And the same study that found obesity rates dropping in adolescents with college-educated parents found a very different picture for adolescents whose parents had only a high school education. Obesity rates increased by 25% for them.

The only way to rationalize such disparities is to chalk them up to personal choice. That’s false comfort when the options are so different for different people born into different circumstances. Everyone deserves a fair chance to lead a healthy, productive life. Ignoring these disparities will be costly for years to come.

Click here to read more about 2013 edition of “America’s Health Rankings” in the Washington Post, here to read the analysis of adolescent obesity disparities in PNAS, here to read more about obesity in developing countries, and here to read more about obesity and diabetes in Mississippi.

Poor Woman of the Village, oil on canvas by Gustave Courbet, 1866, from WikiPaintings

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One Response to “Three Distinctly Different Tracks for Obesity Trends”

  1. January 26, 2014 at 10:12 am, Leoluca Criscione said:

    There is ONLY one scientific and worldwide valid tool on which the prevention and the and cure obesity can be based: the knowledge of the MEASURED PERSONAL METABOLIC RATE and the derived assessment of the Personal Caloric Requirement!
    Our experience shows it clearly!!! See our data using this approach (we named Calogenetic Balance) as presented at the European Congress on obesity
    “Calogenetic Balance, an educational program for lifelong weight control based on measured resting metabolic rate and intake of favorite foods, promotes adherence and success rate”
    Best regards from Switzerland
    Leoluca Criscione