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Understanding the Causes of Obesity

October 11, 2011

MCNtalk has frequently blogged on the national obesity epidemic and approaches to a cure. This pair of articles in The New York Times, “Attacking the Obesity Epidemic by First Figuring Out Its Cause” and “The Numbers Behind an Urgent Fight” offer, in different ways, important insights as to the causes of the situation—and why it must be addressed.

The first article, addressing cause, compares the epidemic to smoking and calls for a multi-level, long-term approach: “…the solution to the nation’s most pressing health problem—the ever-rising epidemic of overweight and obesity at all ages—lies in the answer to this question: Why did this happen in the first place? That is the conclusion of an impressive team of experts who spent the last two years examining obesity-promoting forces globally. They recently published their findings online in a series of reports in The Lancet.

But as has happened with smoking, it will take many years, a slew of different tactics and the political will to overcome powerful lobbying by culpable industries to turn the problem around and begin to bring the prevalence of overweight and obesity back to the levels of the 1970s.

And why is the comparison to smoking so apt for an obesity study? As “The Numbers Behind…” points out, if the trend that, since the 1970s, has led to striking increases in the proportion of Americans who are overweight or obese is not halted, about three of every four Americans will be overweight or obese by 2020.

  • The added treatment costs of obesity, already at $75 billion in 2003, could exceed $66 billion a year, with an even greater cost in lost productivity of up to $580 billion.
  • For every five-point rise in body mass index, men face a 52 percent increase in the risk of esophgeal cancer and a 24 percent increase in colon cancer. Women can expect a 59 percent rise in the risk of both endometrial and gallbladder cancer and a 12 percent rise in postmenopausal breast cancer. 

Food for thought? The cancer statistics alone should be enough to keep one’s mouth from closing on a double cheeseburger and fries.

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