American Fat Goes Global; A Byproduct of Prosperity Is Obesity

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 10, 2011 | Go to article overview

American Fat Goes Global; A Byproduct of Prosperity Is Obesity


Byline: Dr. David Gratzer, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Name a liberal policy cause, and chances are someone has found a way to sell it based on America's rising obesity rate. Liberal pundits and public-health experts serve up a rich buffet of scapegoats for obesity. Our foods are chemically addictive, they claim, so governments must step in to regulate them. Suburban Americans tend to be more obese, so we need fewer cars and more costly transit options, urbanists insist. Corporate ads, cheap fast food, the lack of Canadian-style health insurance - the list stretches on. Here, though, is the reality. Yes, Americans are getting fatter, but so is everyone else in the industrialized world, and that understanding challenges current wisdom on obesity, suggesting the issue may be more cut and dry than liberals make it out to be.

The Economist recently noted that in Mexico, seven out of 10 people are overweight or obese. Mexico is struggling to keep its children from drowning in an endless supply of cakes and sugary sodas.

Measured in raw numbers, China has more fat people than any other country save the United States, with more than 100 million weighing in over medically recommended levels. Economists, social scientists and even doctors blame growing Chinese waistlines on a generation of spoiled children, arguing that China's one-child-per-family policy encouraged the country's new middle class to dote on - and overfeed - lonely sons and daughters.

Wealthier countries aren't escaping the trend, either. Canadians greeted the arrival of KFC's Double Down sandwich this fall with enthusiasm despite media reports that one provincial government sought to regulate the product. Canadians lined up to buy more than a million of the fatty, salty sandwiches in a one-month market trial. While they digested the results, an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report this fall found that two out of three Canadian men are medically overweight and one in four Canadians is medically obese.

In England, binge drinking is the No. 1 national scourge when it comes to preventable disease, but obesity isn't far behind; 63 percent of the English population is overweight.

France is often held up as the healthy diner's dream: a paradise of fresh ingredients, slow dining, red wine and supposedly witty conversation. Yet, according to OECD projections, 44 percent of France will be medically overweight by 2019 - up from 39 percent in 2009. (Apparently, unhealthy food is still unhealthy, even if you happen to eat it in Paris.)

All this makes for awful news on three counts.

Speaking as a physician, I find it frustrating because obesity and other preventable conditions are squandering the achievements of modern medicine. A paper by Dr. Steven Schroeder in the New England Journal of Medicine noted that more than 40 percent of American premature deaths can be blamed on behavioral choices - well exceeding deaths caused by genetic predisposition or insufficient health care. …

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American Fat Goes Global; A Byproduct of Prosperity Is Obesity
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