A Global Epidemic: The Obesity Problem Knows No Borders

Obesity Knows No Borders

By: John Agwunobi, M.D., M.B.A., M.P.H., Co-President and Chief Health & Nutrition Officer

What do couch potatoes, people who spend hours working at a desk, video gamers, computer addicts and many other Americans generally have in common?  They don’t move around enough to burn all the calories they’re consuming.  And they too often go out for a quick bite of inexpensive, unhealthy food seemingly offered on every street corner.

According to the New York Times, recent research reveals that young boys and girls generally reach their summit of physical activity around age 7 in the United States and Europe, but their activity continuously drops, as they grow older.  Incredibly, 66 percent of children do not regularly exercise at all in the United States.

Not surprisingly, the world has become more overweight in recent years.  It doesn’t matter the age group or location in the world—obesity is on the rise.  A just published New England Journal of Medicine article notes that in 2015 it was estimated that 108 million children and 604 million adults were obese worldwide.  The leading causes of death—cardiovascular disease, diabetes and chronic kidney disease—are directly related to this epidemic.

A new study published in Health Affairs by researchers at the Global Obesity Prevention Center at Johns Hopkins University and other institutions, modeled what the dramatic impact might be if we do not tackle the obesity epidemic. The stunning results estimated the financial burden of our current adolescents, ages 8-11, being inactive today and consequently overweight into adulthood would be a distressing $3 trillion per year in medical expenses and lost productivity until their deaths.

That’s an astounding figure, but there’s also good news. According to the model in the study, if just half of all children exercised for 25 minutes three times a week, we would see half a million fewer cases of adult-onset heart disease, diabetes, cancer and strokes. And there would be significant cost savings as well—that 25 minutes, three times a week of exercise would translate to a $32 billion annual drop in illness related costs.

There’s no dispute that well-balanced nutrition coupled with regular exercise is vital to our health and wellness. And it doesn’t have to be over complicated. Look at what just 25 minutes of exercise three times a week can do—not only will it dramatically reduce the amount we spend on public health care costs, it will improve the future lives of our children.