The meandering thoughts and observations of a Technology Engineer.
Obesity in America
So, this afternoon while sitting down with my dad for lunch we usually try to solve all the worlds problems. We spend our time talking about politics, religion, economics, business and many other things. In an effort to solve the worlds problems we often end up in the same loops, but something new came up this week and it got me to thinking.
In our discussion he brought up this interesting new law in NYC about limiting the available sizes of soda. You can review most of the points on the discussion here: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/04/us-usa-sugarban-legal-idUSBRE85315120120604. Without, hopefully, revealing my opinion on the matter I do want to attempt to analyze, why Bloomberg and the city’s health board might make a decision like this.
Obviously I think the quick place to point is ‘The Fat’. Now I’m not one to judge, and I’m not judging, other than I’m 5’10” and 240 lb., not a small guy, but we’ve gotten fat. I mean seriously America, if we look at ourselves in the mirror you’re statistically going to see someone overweight more than 30% of the time. The numbers when reviewed are startling.
According to the CDC (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db82.pdf) there is a lot of people overweight, 35.7% of all americans are what doctors would call obese. Obese is when you have a BMI of over 30 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obesity#Classification) Your BMI is equal to your weight divided by the square of your height in kilograms and meters (BMI = kg/m^2 -or- BMI = lb. * 703/in^2). For my fat ass, that means I have a BMI of 250 lb. * 703/ 70in^2, or about 35, and it shows. I have handlebars on my side that I could sit a can of soda on, and I stick out fairly far in the front and back. I could defiantly stand to lose some pounds and back down to a healthy BMI would be a BMI of 20-25 where lb. = (25 * 70^2)/703, or about 175 lb. This is by the strict rules of the BMI calculator, the CDC data above is based on a laxer definition where 5’9” can be 200 pounds and 5’4” can be 170 pounds. You can easily do this math for yourself, just get on Wikipedia and read through the article linked above. You should do this math for yourself before continuing, because we’re about to get into the fun stuff below and you’ll need your BMI to fully appreciate the points. Take your time, I’ll wait.
Now to discuss the consequences, which is key for the main point of discussion on why government is seeking to control something like soda consumption. The data doesn’t lie, being obese means you have a 100% increase in likelihood of Congestive Heart Failure, 20-30% increase in heart disease, it can cause infertility, with a BMI of 30-35 you are 2.5 times more likely to have gout, if your BMI is above 35 the number jumps to 3, you’re more likely to be depressed and you’re going to die earlier by about 6-7 years. (Mens BMI risk chart: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:MenBMIMort.png, Women: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:WomenBMIMort.png)
So, people get sick, get depressed and get dead more often than their non obese counterparts. The startling figures of increased morbidity and complications is all the more worse when combined with the number of people who are obese. Being fat has reached well past epidemic levels when compared to other disease and though the data is currently pointing to the trend stabilizing at 40% that will represent enormous potential health issues as the population ages.
There are other key indicators and trends that differentiate between socio-economic groups. For example, if you’re poor, female and uneducated you are 15% more likely to be obese than a similar woman with a college degree and a good job. I could write an entire post analyzing that, but I don’t have the time. Read more here if you’re interested: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db50.pdf.
So, we know that the rate of obesity is high, we know the rate of disease increases greatly and we know that it is an epidemic that will reach a serious head sometime in the next 30 years when 40 somethings now, seek to retire. The thought process is certainly stemming from the forecasted impacts to our healthcare system and the ability of business and government to support that many sick and dying people sometime in the 2050’s.
So now we need to take a look at sodas contribution to the problem. Looking at another study summarized here (http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/6284/title/Food_for_Thought__Soft_Drinks_as_Top_Calorie_Culprit) the latest data shows us that the average adult in the US drinks 2.6 cups (20.8 oz.) of sweetened beverages per day. Taking the average energy density of soda at 12 calories/oz, the 2.6 cups represents about an extra 250 calories from soda in the average adults diet.
Continuing with the thought of decreasing obesity if you can reduce the soda intake by 4oz you will decrease the daily calorie intake by 48 calories. Since a pound = 3500 calories you would lose a pound of weight every 72 days by reducing the average intake by only 4 oz. This over the course of the next 40 years represents a loss of 200 lb. of saved fat between now and retirement for 30 somethings today.
Looking at that data, I don’t know if I’ve reverse engineered how they got to the 16oz limit, but it looks like that is probably the basis for the ideology.
Personally, I don’t know what the right answer is. There is a large part of my thinking that says that people should be able to do whatever they want. This must be balance against a lot of people that also seem to want medicine provided to them out of the common purse, to me that makes each of us slightly responsible for each-other when we have medical complications. That is a very complex discussion from that perspective alone, but combined with needing to discuss if this is even the right way to save those calories makes for a very complicated mess that gets distracted easily.
I don’t think that legislating behavior directly ever works. They are going to try this and not change the rate of soda consumption, but increase the overall cost of consuming it. To me, it’s probably going to come down to taxation as the right answer, just like we tax cigarettes.
Well, I hope that the collection of info has been useful for you. If you have an opinion, let me know below, if you have any ideas how to solve the obesity problem feel free to discuss that as well.