TCS Daily

Better to Die Young Than Get Fat

By Sandy Szwarc - June 30, 2005 12:00 AM

The UN's World Health Organization has declared obesity a crisis of "epidemic proportions" in the developing world, with 300 million people globally deemed "obese." The UN has listed it among the world's top ten 'preventable risks,' along with unsafe sex. The reality of life in the developing world makes this agenda nothing short of genocidal.

Daniel J. Hoffman of Columbia University plotted rising BMIs in selected countries over the past fifty years and found a parallel with urbanization in the report "Obesity in developing countries: causes and implications" done for the UN's FAO. He also found higher healthcare expenditures as economies increased in developed countries. Lumping those correlations, with projections that in "less than 25 years it is anticipated almost two-thirds of world's population will be living in cities," formed the basis for claiming obesity economically threatened the developing world.

While admitting the lack of research for any economic impact of obesity in developing countries, he wrote "speculations ... can be made using data from developed countries." He cited studies finding associations between obesity and reduced productivity, including one claiming "obese" people were half as productive as "healthy" people. Hoffman opinioned that while fat people contribute less to the world economy, they require more food and health care costs because they are chronically ill. "Historically, health care systems in developing countries have been designed to treat and manage only acute diseases," he wrote. He questioned whether they could accommodate the burden of obesity-related chronic diseases.

This UN report used calculations of the "costs of obesity" to support that "obese" people were unhealthy drains on developed countries. Those studies, however, were stretches of creativity. They included indirect costs from reduced wages as a result of discrimination in employment, education and insurance coverage. They also piled on the costs for weight loss treatments and used computer modeling to project the costs for treating all of the conditions found in literature searches to be associated with obesity. As computer modeling is apt to do, errors can be built in that aren't apparent. In the cited study by Canadian researchers led by C. Laird Birmingham, for example, 80% of the "obesity-related" costs were just for heart disease, type-2 diabetes and hypertension, which are actually found in people of all weights and increase with aging. They further inflated medical costs attributable to the "obese" by defining obesity as BMIs of 27 and above - which is actually most of the population deemed "overweight."

Hoffman has predicted weight gains limit work capacity and will stagnate or send economic development backwards, although he admits "this idea has not been explored extensively."

Actually it has, but it appears Hoffman and the UN continue to ignore the positive realities in developed countries. When people have access to more food and the prevalence of starvation is reduced, average weights and heights of a population increase, but so does productivity, educational opportunities, prosperity and life expectancies. While one-third of Americans are deemed "obese," the Commerce Department just announced that U.S. incomes are rising at the fastest pace so far this year, outpacing growth in spending. A U.S. child has a life expectancy of 77 years, compared to just 33 years for a child in sub-Saharan Africa.

The UN has focused its objections on globalization and the spread of Western influences on diet. "The influx of multi-national supermarkets is creating unknown changes in the diets of populations," the FAO report stated. "It is important to prevent [developing countries] from succumbing to the dangers of processed foods and Western diets" including fats, meats, sweets and refined grains. To impede or reverse the trend of overweight and obesity, WHO advocates more fruits and vegetables, and public policies to "increase the surveillance of mildly overweight people in poor populations ... and guide social attitudes towards health weights and body sizes."

This is a debauched agenda for an organization whose mission since its foundation in 1945 is to "lead international efforts to defeat hunger" with a special focus on developing countries, home to most of the world's poor and hungry people. A study of more than 140,000 children in 34 countries in the May issue of Obesity Review found that only one-fifth of the countries had rates of childhood "obesity" of even at least 3%. Obesity is not a world crisis.

Contrast that 3% with a FAO report in 2000 which found an average of 33.2% of children in developing countries were malnourished. UNICEF's State of the World's Children 2005, reported 30 to 32% of babies are born with low birth weight. Among children under five years of age, 17 to 46% are moderately to severely underweight, with over 16% severely malnourished. Hunger is leaving millions of children developmentally delayed and vulnerable to diseases.

Compare the 300 million people around the globe WHO claims are "obese" and consider just the world's children. In developing countries, one in three children (more than 500 million) has no access to sanitation facilities; 1 in 5 (400 million) has no access to safe water; more than 640 million are without shelter; and 270 million have no access to healthcare services. Compared to hypothetical hand-wringing about obesity, these health risks kill for real. According to UNICEF, most of the 10.6 million deaths of children before their fifth birthday could have been prevented.

Equating fatness with sexually-transmitted diseases is especially heinous. Ninety percent of HIV/AIDS cases are in developing countries and 2.9 million people died of the virus in 2003, with another 4.8 million more newly diagnosed. And it left 15 million children orphaned, to starve.

For those who find "overweight to be just plain ugly" and "unacceptable from a moral point of view," most people would consider it immoral to focus on the small numbers who have enough to eat while letting hundreds of millions more suffer and die of starvation and disease.


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