Understanding the Obesity Pandemic

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Obesity probably defined as excess body fatness. It doesn't tell us about cause of that increase body fat but it just simply describes somebody who has too much body fat. We use weight or BMI. The body mass index is a proxy for fatness, and generally it's pretty good but fatness is obesity.

I really do think that we're in a pandemic here. If you look at the size of the problem, the number the people that are affected with overweight obesity, inactivity, it's really huge. And what tips me over when I think of epidemic versus pandemic, for me, the definition of an epidemic is a transient phenomenon that comes and goes.

This isn't going anywhere and in contrast to the once a year somebody declares that the curb is starting to flatten out, say it ain't so because it's not and we continue increases in obesity across the planet. So we can look at things like computers, we can look at our food, we can look at our activity levels and the workplace, it's not any one thing, we can talk about increasingly refined and processed foods, but one of the things we missed talking about it is how cheap food is relative to our incomes as a society I mean, even if you look back into the 60's, the amount of our income the average American spent on paying for and buying food was much larger than it is now, food is cheap, it's a fraction of our ability to produce wealth in this country, and as we look at the pandemic across the world we see as income goes up food prices begin to go down as a proportion of that total.

So I think there's some economic issues here at force. What we're worried about are the medical costs and the personal suffering that occurs in the 30s and 40s where we'd have expected normal 50s, 60s, 70s that later age, these young men and women who make it into their 20s with childhood obesity converting to adult obesity, are going to be a major healthcare problem for us 30, 40 years down the road.

So we have really two categories here, one is the ability to compel people to use their frontal lobes and their will power and that kind of lifestyle and behavior change is beginning to develop, there are specific ways that we work with our patients to change their behavior and that's a critically important piece of this.

What's emerging really based on the science of the brain and how we respond to these internal and external cues are some new medical therapies, drugs basically. For certain patients, these are going to end up being critically important.