FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Friday, January 07, 2005

The Super-Sized Generation

Health professionals are in increasing agreement that childhood obesity will become one of the top future health crises in the US. Today, two-thirds of all Americans -- and one-third of American children -- are overweight. Obesity, as we all know, leads to a host of serious health problems, like diabetes and hypertension, as well as secondary socioeconomic problems such as escalating healthcare costs and lower workplace productivity. In fact, it will soon overtake smoking as the leading cause of preventable death. For young people, obesity has become such a problem that some are undergoing surgeries to help them lose weight. For obese kids, it's not a matter of vanity; they're literally trying to save their lives.

So how did we get to this state, and how can we turn things around? Health reporter Lisa Tartemella suggests that the problem has many root causes, including:

  • Larger portions served at fast food outlets and convenience stores (some large sodas are close to a half-gallon in size)
  • TV viewing, which leads to less exercise and more exposure to commercials for junk foods
  • Families with two working parents, who don't have time to cook balanced meals
  • Schools, where food quality is often poor, and physicial activities such as gym and recess have been cut back

Tartemella also says that low-income households are more at risk of obesity, because they are often in neighborhoods where it's not safe for kids to go out and play, and rely on less-expensive fast foods.

One of the major debates about obesity in the coming years will be how to approach it. Traditionally, body weight has been a matter of personal responsibility. After all, no one can force you to work out or go on a diet. But there are growing calls for more of a national policy on the issue, especially in areas where government has the most clout, such as schools. More awareness is also in order, although most of us have supposedly been taught healthy eating habits from childhood, and we can all read the nutrition facts on the foods we buy.

Will obesity become such a public health crisis that we'll hear calls for regulating the food industry, controlling fast-food advertising, or even for banning certain food types? Not in this decade... or at least in this administration. But things could change if the perception grows that obesity -- and the strain it puts on society at large -- is out of control.

Source: Newsweek