We are all going super-size: Researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health examined trends of the last decade or so, ran a sophisticated "projection analysis," and popped out some numbers (the report is on their web site). By 2030, 86% of Americans will be overweight or obese, including 96% of non-Hispanic black women and 91% of Mexican-American men. Obesity is a major contributing factor in the epidemic of hypertension, type-2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke in the country, and surprisingly is even a factor in a number of types of cancer. And 70%-75% of all health care costs spring from such chronic conditions.
What does this mean, besides that you should cancel that DonutFans.com subscription?
It means that treating the symptoms won't cut it, dealing with the acute phase when people show up in the ER will swamp us both economically and medically – the scenario does not work. That's where we end up when we as a society pay no attention to the systemic roots of things. If you want to save billions of dollars, millions of lives, and a lot of suffering, you have to start with public policy changes, education initiatives, and healthcare outreach programs that change behavior.
Why don't we do it? Because in the short term it just costs money and doesn't make much money for anyone (except maybe for diabetes educators). Think of it this way: A car wreck adds to the gross domestic product. Why? Because everyone gets paid – the EMTs, the ambulance company, the doctors, the hospital, the auto body shop, the car dealers and manufacturers. If we made our decisions on strictly economic grounds, we would encourage car wrecks. Does that strike you as a stupid idea? Yet by ignoring the systemic roots of chronic disease, by not enacting public policy changes that enable healthier lifestyles, by choking the funding for education, preventive and chronic care, while at the same time the amount we pay for acute care mounts year after year, we are doing much the same thing.