The problems associated with being overweight or obese continue to be in the news nearly everywhere you look. Often the focus is on childhood obesity. The thought is that perhaps with the proper education about the dangers of obesity early in life, we can make a difference in the next generation in a way that is too difficult for adults. When it comes to fighting obesity, I wonder, are adults a lost cause?
It seems as though in some ways we’ve accepted adult obesity as the new normal. This sense of complacency is really a big part of the problem.
If you consider the non-medical causes of obesity, it is very difficult to undo years of learned behaviors that contribute to heavier weight. The problem is compounded when you factor in environmental, medical and cultural factors that make eating healthier and being active more difficult.
For all of the current discussion on obesity, it’s important to note that this is not a new problem. In fact, Life magazine once noted that obesity is “the most serious health problem in the U.S. today.” And that was in March… of 1954.
Certainly we’ve all seen the numbers on the growing the prevalence of obesity in the U.S. and even around the world. Seven out of 10 people in the U.S. are either overweight or obese, conditions that lead to increased risk for high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Besides the impact on health and the resulting medical costs, there are other costs. There is increased absenteeism and lower productivity that affects employers. There are even environmental costs. One study showed that cars today are burning a billion more gallons of gasoline a year than they would if drivers and passengers weighed what they did in 1960.
Last week at TEDMED, held in Washington D.C. at the Kennedy Center and George Washington University, I facilitated a group discussion on adult obesity to explore these issues and discuss solutions. As with any issue this complex, there is no silver bullet and having a positive impact means engaging multiple sectors of society. Our group was comprised of doctors, business people, teachers, marketers and advocates.
We focused our conversation on four areas that are critical to addressing this problem. I’m including some initial observations here and will explore each of them more in future posts. There are significant changes needed in social, cultural and environmental factors that contribute to obesity. Health care providers have a unique opportunity to provide leadership and be a stronger voice on this issue.
Given that many of us spend eight or more hours five days a week sitting at a desk, businesses can influence their employees in ways that improve health and the bottom line. One simple way is to encourage employees to take walking breaks, or negotiate a discount at a nearby gym. Businesses can also respond with products and services by creating healthier product lines and developing innovative solutions to help keep people healthy.
Governments have a role too by providing education and by creating incentives for the kinds of behaviors that will improve health for its citizens while reducing economic burden of increased healthcare costs.
We only scratched the surface when it comes to these issues, but I left our session feeling as though something can be done if we as a society find the will to act. What do you think? When it comes to obesity are adults a lost cause?
Tags: noncommunicable diseases