Meandering Technologist

The meandering thoughts and observations of a Technology Engineer.

Category Archives: Science

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.

Reflections on Privledge

There are many things in this world that I’m thankful for, but I know that there are many things in this world that are mine because of who and where I was born. In many cases, it could be argued that there are things that I have that aren’t available to everyone. I have things that are born out of the resiliency of my parents and out of the idea that they wanted a better future for me, not everyone is so lucky.

It is also the case that there are people who are much more privileged than I am, but does that mean I have no care or should disregard those that have less than me? Not less stuff or money, but less access to a life where they have opportunity. Where they could make a choice about what they want to do, who they want to do it with and where they want to do it?

Some would turn the discussion into a philosophical one: Does anyone really have choice in what they do? It’s an interesting point and worthy of a personal examination, most peoples initial reaction would be that they absolutely have personal free will over how they live their life. You can say, for example choose between Vanilla or Chocolate ice cream, or you could choose to take the long or the short way home from work. You could also make bigger choices about who you’re going to marry, who you want to be friends, with and how risky of behaviors that you choose to partake in.

Now, the other school of thought is that we don’t really have much say, cognitively in what we say and what we do. A lot of the activities that we take place in and a lot of the things that we do are driven by reaction and habit. Anyone who has tried to change something about themselves, be it smoking, weight, or chewing their nails, or any other habit usually finds themselves at a dire crossroad where they know what they want, but are incapable of making a change to their behavior.

What’s important there is that inability to make a change in your personal behavior, regardless of the personal desire to make the change. This has been established by a lot of testing on the part of neuroscientists and people much smarter than me. So the real question comes down to how far this programmed behavior problem goes.

Does it go so deep that we could eventually predict with accuracy how successful one person or another will be in life? Will be able to figure out what kind of person you will marry? Will we figure out how many kids you will have? The science hasn’t quite extended to the point that we know if we can even ask these questions. But I think that there are going to be a lot of things about our lives that are being run by parts of our brains that let us think we have control over the outcome and direction of our lives.

I don’t think that there is necessarily anything wrong with this. In fact I think it is reassuring that the brain takes a lot of that load off and I think that we do have a simple choice in much of what happens. We have choices about how we choose to reflect on our current experience. We have choices about how things make us feel. The same studies about habit have found that people that think about making changes in relation to how it impacts their interpersonal relationships, rather than on how good or bad it is for them, make the changes easier than those that don’t think about it that way.

So, that was a mighty tangent from my first thought, but it applies. If we know that much of the actions, thoughts and desires you have are a result of the habit forming parts of the brain, habits that are formed early in life and persist through life. How can we know then, that there really is any way to help someone grow out of their situation. Sure we hear about people that make it out of dire situations of being poor, or disadvantaged, but how often does that really happen? I would bet, that far more often that people born to lives that aren’t in any way privileged, educated or successful are going to have a much harder time breaking out of that situation.

This lines up in the same direction with how hard it would be for me to break into the millionaire/billionaire section of society. I’m born and raised on the habits and pitfalls of the middle class America rather than on the privilege that many receive higher than me.

So, I think that in general it shouldn’t be the place of another person to tell any other person that they should just pull themselves up by the boot straps and get to work making or doing something. Many people just don’t have the capacity or habits to make that work for them. They don’t have access to seeing the world through a lens that privilege brings.

It should be the goal of everyone that truly wants a free and open world to have as many people as possible attain the goals of personal self-control and awareness. Everyone should have a sense that they are controlling the path in their life and have a say in what they get out of life. It would be a much happier and healthy place if we could get over the idea that the roads are paved in gold and anyone can make it.

It’s only true if you know how to find the road, and walk down it.

DIY Solar System

I saw this the other day and it reminded me how wonderful it’s going to be to learn as a kid in the Internet age.

I wish that there were things like this when I was a kid so that I could really play with the physics of planetary motion. If only there was any money in video game developers making things like this.

I can dream.

http://www.geeksaresexy.net/2011/08/18/solar-system-builder-online-game/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+geeksAreSexyTechnologyNews+%28%5BGeeks+are+Sexy%5D+technology+news%29