Image from zmescience.com

Image from zmescience.com

Dr. David Ludwig wrote an opinion piece for the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) last week where he discusses new information from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and it was eye-opening, and well worth considerable concern.

According to the opinion piece, if you look at age-adjusted death rates for the first 9 months of 2015 – the rates actually went up from the previous year. And, while you may be leery of the data – let’s look at what this means. Mortality rates for lifestyle related diseases increased as follows:

  • 1% for heart disease
  • 3% for diabetes
  • 3% for chronic liver disease
  • 4% for stroke
  • 19% for Alzheimer disease

And, truth be told – it appears that mortality rates started to increase earlier in certain areas where obesity is more endemic. So, this can’t necessarily be explained away as a statistically insignificant fluctuation.

I have written blog posts previously where I discuss the impact of obesity related diseases and our national security – and, Dr. Ludwig also repeats that same message. According to Dr. Ludwig, we have been lucky to have a number of powerful (and sometimes, expensive) treatments that slow the progression of many of these obesity and poor-diet related illnesses – but, his concern is that now – our technological advances may no longer be able to stem the tide.

Who will bear the brunt of this?

First off, let’s put the monetary issue aside. Our children will likely bear the brunt of our poor lifestyle issues. And, it may accelerate as the current generation of children have higher body weights much earlier in life than ever in history. And, there is no sign that this will change when they reach adulthood. So, they are already at risk of developing these chronic diseases at an earlier age.

But now, let’s look at the cost of this. Let’s look at the direct medical costs just due to obesity (not including tax revenue lost from lower productivity).  In 2008, the direct medical cost just due to obesity was estimated at $147 billion ($162 billion in today’s dollars – or, a little under 1% of GDP). As these costs rise, it will strain our medical system and national budget. And, things like infrastructure, education and so on will be affected.

This doesn’t even include the impact to our national defense. According to the CDC, in 2007 – 2008 – “5.7 million men and 16.5 million women who were eligible for military service exceeded the Army’s enlistment standards for weight and body fat.

We need to begin to address this problem head on by changing our food policies, changing our lifestyles, and learning to care for ourselves again. This is not fat-bashing – it is ensuring that we, as a nation, are in the best of health and vibrancy – and, our current strategy is not working.

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