Monday, 31 October 2016

The Economics of Obesity.

Statistics from last year show that the number of obese adults in the developing world has quadrupled since 1980 to a one billion. Over one third of American adults are deemed obese, as are more than a quarter of British adults, resulting in Britain's NHS spending over £5bn a year on health problems associated with being overweight or obese.

Obesity is evidently a growing epidemic, but why? It is almost undoubtable that economic-related factors play a significant role in this.

One of the most notable shifts in the lifestyle of our society has been that the wealthy and the poor have almost switched positions with regards to levels of obesity. A study undertaken by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine compared the dietary and health lifestyles of poorer and wealthy individuals, and determined that those earning under $20k are 50% less likely to exercise sufficiently than those earning over $75k, and instead they are 50% more likely to purchase over the counter 'diet pills' which are pretty much quack medications.

It seems the major reason for this is the lack of time many poorer people are likely to have. With almost 7 million Americans working multiple jobs, and 41 million Americans receiving insufficient hours of sleep according to the Centre for Disease Control, time is becoming a premium for many poorer Americans whose economic straits lead them to take up multiple jobs or jobs with hours that reduce their ability to lead a healthy lifestyle. These people are likely to have less time to go out and exercise (hence their purchasing of 'get slim quick' pills), are more likely to be drawn towards processed 'fast food' as opposed to home cooking and thus are more likely to live a lifestyle that will make them overweight. Wealthier middle and upper class people, on the whole, have access to more free time, which allows them to spend more time cooking their meals from scratch and going out to exercise. In the UK, this is reflected in how average household income of a gym member is 35% higher than the national average.

But you could mention the 8.2% of people who are unemployed in the States, and other developed countries. They should have plenty of free time, no, to go out and run and cook meals? Well, most likely, yes. But this brings us to the other issue in this obesity crisis.

Food prices are becoming more diverse than ever. A study by Dr Pablo Monsivais of the University of Cambridge found that, in 2012, healthy foods were three times more expensive per calorie than less healthy foods. For a more specific example, take a frozen pizza, a typically 'unhealthy' food- in 2002 1000 calories worth of frozen pizza cost £2.10, falling to £1.58 10 years later. On the other hand, 1000 calories worth of tinned tomatoes more than doubled in the same time period. This is emphasised by the massive increase in reliance upon food banks, which are currently unable to provide for a sufficient number of people to change the status quo.

You can see it every day in the shops- look at how much more expensive the top brand meals, which are usually made with less additives and purer ingredients, are than their cheaper, diluted, lower quality alternatives. Look at the difference in price between organic and 'basic' stuff.

Not only are the poorer in society lacking time to create healthy, nutritious meals, but they evidently lack the finances. Ready meals, frozen foods, fast foods (a McDonald's burger for $1, really?) and so on having devastating impacts on the health of not just the poorer in society but its sheer popularity means it is affecting society as a whole.

So it is undoubtable that economic conditions play a significant role in one's health, particularly with regards to the issue of obesity.

Recent trends present a shift from past centuries. Throughout history, a large belly was seen to be a sign of wealth, and indeed it was- it meant you could not just fill your appetite but also afford to indulge in food. The poor in society barely got enough to survive, let alone become overweight. But as society has progressed and peoples' economic standards have risen, this has changed. Significantly more people (though poignantly still not all) in developed countries can afford to feed themselves, but there remains much to improve with regards to quality of life. We are able to feed most people in the developed world- perhaps a move we will soon have to look to is to ensure what people are eating is beneficial for them.


Researchers Point to Economic Reasons for Obesity

Impatience, Incentives and Obesity

Trying to Lose Weight: The Association of Income and Age to Weight-Loss Strategies in the USA

Price Gap Between More and Less Healthy Food Grows

Sources for evidence and data can be found within the hyperlinks in the text.
Mohammad Lone Editor