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A tide of fat

By Imogen Nolan - posted Friday, 1 February 2013


Ask the average Aussie what he or she considers to be a challenge facing the globe and no doubt the following would feature frequently – the economy, the environment, affordable housing, the Eurozone crisis, Indigenous health, job security, public education, Congress and the debt ceiling…

Perhaps far far down the list, a lone pollster would cite the unsustainable strain created by increasing rates of obesity around the world. Perhaps someone had read The Economist's Special Report on Obesity published in December last year.

Let me throw you some of The Report's frightening facts and figures - obesity is currently the fastest growing cause of disease. By 2030, 3.3 billion people will be overweight or obese and one in ten of us will be baring our buttocks daily for an insulin injection.

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At home, the Australian Bureau Statistics projects that by 2020, 75% of the nation will be overweight and 65% obese.

It's time we all started jumping up and down (preferably literally) about obesity.

If losing weight was easy there would be no epidemic - but, as The Economist special report notes, unlike other vices such as tobacco, drugs and alcohol, keeping the kilos in check requires changing a multitude of behavioural patterns.

Indeed the path to health and leanness is an all-consuming odyssey - we must not only eat the right foods but the right amount of the right foods – this requires knowing what are the right foods and being able to afford the right foods. On top of this, is learning how to negotiate situations where we have no control over what food is available to us.

As if the task wasn't onerous enough, an increasing number of studies are indicating that once you start dieting, the hormone leptin starts falling. When leptin levels fall, not only does your appetite increase, but your metabolism slows down too. Please excuse the food related idiom – but this is a recipe for failure – we're destined to be doughy.

Another part of the problem is the way we view the problem – we think of weight as an individually based phenomenon – my weight problem. However, as the negative externalities generated by obesity continue to mount, your weight problem is in fact increasingly my problem too.

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Jessica Irvine, one of Australia's leading economists reveals in her book Bananas, Zombies and Why There Are No Economists In Heaven that her own weight loss was partially motivated by her knowledge of the economic cost of carrying unnecessary kilos – appreciating, that her weight was serving to weigh down others.

How often though, does a colleague in the tea-room cite reducing the strain on the healthcare system or increasing their productivity at work as a motivating factor behind their current diet or exercise regimen?

In 2010, an Australian Medical Report found that annual direct healthcare costs for a normal weight, overweight and obese person were $1710, $2110 and $2540 respectively – in the aggregate these differences could soon have people pleading their pudgier pals to forgo dessert for the sake of their own hip pocket.

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About the Author

Imogen Nolan is an Economics/Law Student from the University of New South Wales.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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