The United States is the fattest nation among
33 countries with advanced economies, according to a report out today
from an international think tank.
Two-thirds of people in this country are
overweight or obese; about a third of adults — more than 72 million —
are obese, which is roughly 30 pounds over a healthy weight.
Obesity rates have skyrocketed since the 1980s in
almost all the countries where long-term data is available, says the
report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD),
which works on policies to promote better economies and quality of
"Obesity is a growing threat to public health in
all the advanced countries throughout the world," OECD spokesman
Matthias Rumpf says. Obesity causes illnesses, reduces life expectancy
and increases health care costs, he says.
Obesity increases the risk of heart disease,
diabetes, several types of cancer and other diseases. Obesity cost the
U.S. an estimated $147 billion in weight-related medical bills in 2008,
according to a study by government scientists.
"We have to find the most effective and
cost-efficient way to deal with the problem," Rumpf says. "Countries can
learn from each other, and the best and most effective policies can be
used in all countries."
Among OECD's recommendations:
•Individual lifestyle counseling by family
doctors and dietitians to increase the life expectancy and quality of
life for people who are obese or at risk of becoming so. "It costs a lot
of money," Rumpf says, "but you get a lot for this money."
•Health-promotion campaigns, compulsory food
labeling and a serious commitment from the food industry to stop
advertising unhealthy foods to kids.
"There are a lot of these things going on in the
U.S. already, but the question is (whether) you can adjust and redirect
the policies to make them more effective," he says. "No one can fix the
problem, but we can reduce it."
Neville Rigby, director of the European Obesity
Forum, says the OECD report "is important because it provides clear
evidence that the way most countries have been approaching obesity has
been doomed to failure."
"Obesity must be tackled by a multi-pronged
approach that involves a combination of strong policy measures at the
same time as individual management issues are addressed by physicians
and their teams," he says.
The report "makes the case for a much more robust
set of government and societal actions," Rigby says. If society waits
for business and individuals to do what is really needed, "the obesity
epidemic will simply get much, much worse."
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