What is the greatest hazard to your longevity? Ask around and you will get a variety of answers: heart disease, cancer, genetics, or humankind’s own folly with warfare and planetary destruction. But it has become taboo to mention obesity. Yet, for decades, this column has stressed that obesity is the greatest health hazard of them all.
Amid all of society’s penchants for weight gain, daily unrelenting efforts of individuals to maintain healthy weights would save more lives than any other prescription. Supportive public policies and improved private sector responsibility would help.
Today, all over the world, people are disturbingly obese and ill. Among the root issues is one simple fact. People are devouring too many calories, too often combined with sedentary lifestyles. It’s not hard to see.
Why do we shy away from a focus on obesity and shine the spotlight instead on heart disease, diabetes or other conditions associated with obesity? In part, it’s because it’s wrong to play the blame game. That, and the medical world is designed to treat diseases, not prevent them.
Furthermore, whereas obesity is a state of being, diseases are downright awful. Take type 2 diabetes, for example. For many diabetics, the pandemic has been particularly brutal, killing many people having “underlying conditions”. But diabetes also has terrible complications of its own, causing blindness, kidney failure, and leg amputations due to gangrene.
Unfortunately, many families having lost a loved one think it has been due to coronary attack, stroke, pneumonia, a complication during surgery, or being elderly. But this is to miss the lifestyle factors that culminated over time to set the stage for drama. The death certificate never lists obesity at the cause of death. The deception is fooling families and the general public too.
There is a huge disconnect between what journalists and medical experts report in the news and the corresponding reality for most people. Eye-opening evidence presented by Our World in Data, a scientific online publication focusing on large global problems, shows that the news provides “a near-instantaneous snapshot of single events”, whereas persistent, large-scale trends never make the headlines.
To illustrate, the publication presents data on what caused deaths in the U.S. in 2016, side by side with data on Google searches and media coverage in the New York Times and The Guardian. In fact, 60% of deaths were attributed to heart disease and cancer, while only 0.9% and less than 0.01% of deaths were due to homicide or terrorism, respectively. But in both journals, homicide and terrorism combined for about 60% of coverage, and heart disease got only 2%. (Obesity wasn’t mentioned.)
Few people are trained nutritionists. But unless living like a mole, you should know that to lose weight you have to stop eating high quantities of high calorie meals and sugary desserts such as cookies, ice cream, cakes and pies. Combine smaller, smarter caloric intake with daily walking or other moderate exercise, and then you’ll be happy to see the scale numbers decreasing. This works.
Sadly, most people are largely unaware of how type 2 diabetes affects later life. Helpful medical advances are undergoing clinical trials. But there’s little hope for healthy longevity without losing weight and preventing the development of unnecessary complications.
Health authorities should be supporting this objective by alerting the public to the mind-boggling negative consequences of a do-nothing approach.
What is going to happen worldwide? With obesity unaddressed, we face a medical disaster that is bankrupting health care systems. And don’t believe this won’t affect you if you do not protect your own family.
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