This blog has every intention to summarize the health care crisis faced by modern and third world people resulting from the ready availability of cheap calories and sedentary living. One simple article in HealthNewsCanal (http://www.healthcanal.com/metabolic-problems/obesity/58073-obesity-may-…) used mathematical modeling to determine the effect of being overweight or obese on longevity and, uniquely, “healthy-life years”. By way of a caveat, models are created by picking what data points to include and how to structure/weight them in order to estimate the effects of the variables the researcher wish to test. A less than ideal way of predicting but for population-based calculations, they work, at least for now.
Anyway, this study’s model determined that being overweight/obese could cut 8 years out of your life. Simplistically, this means if you were supposed to live to 78, you will now only live to 70. You can see the silliness in this line of argument: who knows how long you’re supposed to live. OK, some of you will say ‘god knows’ but if that’s the case, he/she also knows you are not supposed to live that long because he/she also knows you are going to be obese and die sooner. Silly stuff here.
What it’s saying, tho, is that from a population of people who are not obese, who live an average of xyz years, the population of obese people will live, on average, 8 years less. Furthermore if you have a disease such as diabetes or heart disease, esp if you have been obese since your youth, you may lose up to 20 years of life, not to mention several years of “healthy-life years”, years where you were optimally functional and not being treated for disease. Most of us can appreciate this. Now the kicker: most of us are not any one of us. In other words, genetics matter, and exercise matters also.
I’ll forgo genetics as that is very complex and totally unpredictable; it works better ex post facto: when an obese person, like one of my clients, is healthy – no heart or metabolic disease – into her late 60s, there’s got to be genes involved. indeed, her mom lived quite long, into her 90s, and even her dad, who died in his 70s but was obese, lived a long life considering other factors such as having been born in the pre-antibiotics age. In other words, my client is likely to live quite long relative to her obesity. The reason, other than genetics, I contend is as much to do with socioeconomic as anything. and this study does not seem to factor that into its model, so far as we can tell from this article.
So how does socioeconomic factor in? She can afford to pay a personal fitness trainer to try to keep her fit. Even if she does not comply with ACSM guidelines for exercise or with ADA for healthy eating, she eats better quality food, pays me to do some exercise at least twice a week, lives in a clean, safe community, and has access to quality healthcare, including preventive care. Obesity is dangerous, for sure, and exercise alone can’t cure it; but being poor(er) magnifies its damages and that is something the health, fitness and political communities may recognize but I have yet to read anything that offers affordable and effective solutions for that piece.
So how would I summarize the health care crisis due to obesity? Until the world decides that the economics of cheap calories and the ethics of reinforced sedentariness (think neighborhood and community designs that support driving instead of walking, or technologies that encourage sitting vs getting outside and moving) are altered, we will continue to bemoan and model lifestyle related disease and death to no avail.