Epidemics of Addiction, Depression, and Obesity

American life expectancy is taking a hit. And that discomforting news leads us back to parallel trends in addiction, depression, and obesity. Recently, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recently called the nation to action on addiction, pointing out that opioid use has now surpassed tobacco use. Likewise, rising suicide rates and rates of depression, particularly among young people, point to a related crisis. And at the same time, obesity is taking a tremendous toll on the health of many communities that are also bearing burdens of addiction and despair.

Writing in Vox, Julia Belluz and Sarah Frostenson explain a complicated story of rising despair. The consequences for physical and mental health are complex and profound. And simple explanations are likely to be simply wrong, says McGill University epidemiologist Sam Harper:

It is true that “despair over the future” is something that could be implicated, and that is most clearly seen in rising suicide rates — but it hardly seems a sufficient explanation for the persistently high rates of cardiovascular disease we see in parts of the US South, which are largely driven by much longer term behavioral and health care risk factors.

Perhaps these are parallel and unrelated crises. Maybe they just happen to be harming so many lives in so many of the same communities. But ignoring the role of economic and social stress in epidemics of obesity, addiction, and despair would be foolish.

Just saying no to drugs and taxing sugar probably won’t fix it.

Click here for more from Belluz and Frostenson. This essay from James Fallows on despair and hope in Trump’s America is also well worth reading. And finally, Olga Khazan offers a thoughtful analysis here on the reasons that so many Americans are dying young.

Despair, Painting by Max Kurzweil / WikiArt

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December 18, 2016