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We’re Number One!

We’re Number One!

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It was such fun watching the athletes compete in the London Olympics, and satisfying to see United States Olympians collect more gold, silver and bronze medals than any other country. It’s not fun seeing this morning’s headline “Obesity weighs on U.S. productivity” and learning that the U.S. leads the world in another category: obesity. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has 34 member nations, including the United States, and keeps track of health trends among member populations. A recent OECD report somewhat unkindly stated this way: “Soaring obesity rates make the US the fattest country in the OECD. Overweight and obesity rates have increased steadily since the 1980s in both men and women. Three out of four people are projected by the OECD to be overweight or obese within 10 years.”

Jim Landers’ analysis of OECD numbers in today’s Dallas Morning News gives depressing details: The U.S. led OEDC in adult obesity rates with 33.8% in 2009; Mexico was the closest competitor for the fat prize with 30.0%. Korea scored lowest at 3.8%. China is not an OEDC member, but it reports that only 2.9% of Chinese adults are obese. Yesterday’s post explored the broad health effects of obesity, and they are not good. Consuming too much leads to more consumption, particularly for health care: the Texas Comptroller estimates that obesity cost Texas employers $9.5 billion in 2009 and warns that rising obesity costs have forced Texas employers to cut health insurance coverage.

Corporate America is very diverse, and the distasteful reality that Coke and other sellers of empty calories profit from fattening Americans hurts other businesses. Fit workers tend to be more productive workers – a rational employer might favor a skinny Chinese over an obese Texan if other factors were equal. Dr. Edwardo Sanchez, the chief medical officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, put it this way: “I do think that part of the challenge has been that corporate America has not seen obesity as a challenge to its ability to compete on the world stage. It’s more and more clear that’s the case. A healthy workforce is a productive workforce.”

Obesity varies somewhat by region, and the CDC just released its “obesity map” showing how states compare. Colorado was lowest with 20.7% of its adults rated obese while 12 states, including Texas, have at least 30% of adults tagged as obese. Even Colorado was well above the 16.9% average obesity rate for all OEDC member states, and of the competitive Chinese. Obesity is one result of consuming too much, excess which hurts the Earth, our abilities to do things for each other, and the consumer’s health.

Image by Tibor Végh (Tenerife 2010 124.JPG) [CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


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