Obesity in the news
The big International Congress on Obesity going on this week in Stockholm is generating lots of news. Three studies being presented Tuesday make it clear how daunting the battle against overweight and obesity really is.
Consider these findings:
-- Community-based interventions to prevent obesity in children can work, but they work best in those under the age of 5. Researchers report that there is evidence of some success for such programs among primary schoolchildren but "very mixed effects" among adolescents, according to media materials. (For more on the success of intervention programs for schoolchildren, read this.)
-- Efforts to limit the marketing of unhealthful food and drink to children are underway in the U.S., Brazil and two-thirds of European countries, among other jurisdictions. But they're complicated by all kinds of issues, including unclear definitions of what's "unhealthful," the debate over whether the food industry's voluntary changes can be sufficient and the expanding field of venues through which those companies can reach children.
-- A man who is obese at age 20 is at double the risk of dying at any subsequent age through age 80 of a man who is not obese. That's from a Danish study that tracked more than 5,000 military conscripts from age 20 until age 80 -- the longest follow-up period of any such study. On top of that, the study found that "the chance of dying early increased by 10 percent for each BMI point above the threshold for a healthy weight and that this persisted throughout life, with the obese dying about eight years earlier than the non-obese," according to the news release. That argues strongly against the "health at every size" stance that says overweight and mortality are not directly linked.
And that's not all the obesity news. The debate over the utility and wisdom of a soda tax continued in this Hartford Courant op-ed feature, in which Yale professor Kelly Brownell maintains that it's the government's responsibility to protect citizens' health, in this case by imposing a soda tax, while Fergus Cullen of the Yankee Institute counters that the government has no business meddling with our dinner plates and that overweight is a matter of personal responsibility. Cullen further notes that if curbing obesity is really a matter of saving money, we should encourage all the soda drinking we can, as people of healthful weights tend to live longer and ultimately cost the government more money than a fat person's medical costs.
Want more? Join the debate reported in The New York Times about whether we're doing the right thing by focusing so narrowly on young people's obesity at the expense of anti-smoking campaigns.
I came back to all this news after spending 10 days in Italy eating pizza and gelato and drinking excellent wine with most meals and walking from historic site to art museum to music venue. I didn't gain an ounce. But I spent some of my time there thinking about how different cultures' approaches to eating might determine how overweight people are. I'll be writing about that in my "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column July 22.
As always, I welcome your thoughts on these and any other obesity-related matters. Now that I'm back in my office, I'll be tweeting regularly, too, so let's be in touch.
Jennifer LaRue Huget
July 13, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Nutrition and Fitness , Obesity
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