An international organization representing the wealthiest countries says developed nations are getting fatter, and America is setting the trend. In its first ever obesity forecast, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) warns that by the year 2020, three out of four Americans will be overweight or obese. This worldwide obesity epidemic is closely tied to rising healthcare costs and skyrocketing degenerative disease rates throughout the developed world, say researchers.
The OECD normally reports on economic indices for 33 of the world’s leading economies, but Franco Sassi, OECD senior health economist, sees growing waistlines as a matter of great economic weight. Sassi believes the costs of widespread obesity — in terms of resources directed at treating the degenerative diseases associated with being overweight — are too high to ignore.Sassi, a former London School of Economics Lecturer, summarizes the root of the problem when he says:
“Food is much cheaper than in the past, in particular food that is not particularly healthy, and people are changing their lifestyles, they have less time to prepare meals and are eating out more in restaurants.”
People are also less physically active and such sedentary lifestyles have led to an overweight/obesity rate of nearly 70 percent in the U.S.. According to the OECD, that number was well under 50 percent in 1980. While U.S. government scientists think their country’s obesity rates are leveling off, Sassi and his team of researchers found that other developed nations’ obesity rates have yet to plateau. Currently, about two thirds of adult Americans are overweight or obese, and healthcare costs associated with obesity-related diseases equate to 1 percent of GDP. That’s twice as high as other OECD countries. Citing another study, the OECD estimates these healthcare costs could potentially triple by 2025.
For local and organic food advocates, the state of the industrialized world’s health is a testament to the fallibility of our current food system. Many writers have confronted the obesity pandemic and all seem to have reached a consensus with Sassi concerning its causes. However, special emphasis is usually placed on the negative impact federal farm policies have on the the health of Americans, and thus the world. In particular, direct subsidies given to corn farmers encourage (and have done so for the past 40 years) the overproduction of a single commodity which has become so cheap and prolific, it’s found in over 75 percent of processed food products.
It turns out that being mostly corn-fed isn’t a good thing.