Obesity problem could place huge strain on health-care system

If you think that the baby boomers are going to place a strain on our cash starved health care system, wait until  you to see what problem the next generation brings.


The weight of children is increasing at an alarming rate and they are going to start seeking extended health care at a  younger age.  The problem represents a time bomb for our  health care system.

Obesity is going to prematurely kill and maim kids in a number ways:  increased diabetes, strokes, breast cancer, uterine cancer, asthma, arthritis, back problems, high blood pressure, thyroid disorders, high blood cholesterol, and atherosclerosis.

Doctor Martin Collis from Victoria has a solution — tax foods that are contributing to the problem.  Fat taxes are collected in the United States where more than a dozen States collect a few cents on the sale of each soft drink and bag of snacks.  That few cents multiplies to over $1 billion (US) a year.

There is a reluctance on the part of governments to spend this money advertising healthy eating but the fast food industry is not hesitant.  They know how to advertise and would like to “educate” children in schools about the benefits of sweet, salty, fatty foods.  McDonald’s spends $1.1 billion on marketing in the U.S. and Coca-Cola spends $866 million.

Compare that with the mere $1 million that National Cancer Institute spends each year to encourage Americans to eat healthy to reduce the risk of cancer.  The sad fact is that there isn’t as much money to be made promoting fruit and vegetables.

It’s not just the consumption of fast foods that’s the problem,  it’s the size of the portions.  Movie theatres sell bucket-sized popcorn and litre-sized soft drinks.  Fast food restaurants encourage customers to “super size” their orders and indulge in an orgy of empty calories for only 49 cents more.

The result is that we have super size kids  says Dr. Collis.   It’s a problem that’s getting worse.  Since 1981 obesity in Canadian boys has increased from 5 to 14 per cent and the figures are  almost as bad for girls.  Girls get the message from the  fashion industry that being fat is worse than death — it’s a  living hell.   So, girls risk their health by purging their bodies of junk food.

It’s hard to find solutions to obesity when it such a misunderstood problem.   Obese people are seen as social outcasts just for being good consumers — following eating habits encouraged by the fast food industry.   No wonder teens are confused.  On one hand they are told that thin is sexy and desirable while the fast food industry promotes obesity.

Solutions to obesity are also mired in politics.  Just the idea of a fat tax has right-wingers squirming.  An editorial in the Ottawa Citizen says “we are leery of calls for government intervention on matters that are intrinsically personal and private. What people eat and drink (and smoke) is, with few exceptions, their own business.”  Wrong.

As long as we have a public health care system in which everyone pays for bad eating habits then unhealthy eating is everyone’s concern.  It’s in everyone’s best interests to have a healthy society.

Programs that promote activity and fitness, like  ParticipAction, have been starved of government funding.

“Health Canada itself claimed that the annual medical cost directly attributed to inactivity is over $2 billion per year,” says Russ Kisby, volunteer president of ParticipAction. It would take only a small fraction of that promote health life styles and reduce health care costs.

I wonder why we eat beyond our caloric needs?  Two reasons come to mind.

Our guts evolved to consume large amounts of food high in fibre and low in calories.   Before agriculture, humans spend a lot of time eating roots, berries, seeds, primitive grains, and nuts.  We had to eat lots just to survive.  The impulse to eat is still there even though we now consume too many calories.

Another explanation is that consumerism is empty and unfulfilling.  The marketplace has failed to provide what people hunger for — nourishment for the human spirit.  We buy useless stuff and eat without satisfaction. The purchase of new things provides a brief pleasure, but like eating one potato chip, we  just want more.


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