The most significant change to the human species in millennia spells disaster for the environment, health care, and education. It could even mean the end of sports. The reason is that thin and normal weight Americans are headed for extinction, according to the projections of scientists studying obesity rates in the United States.
If obesity trends continue, almost nine out of every ten Americans will be overweight or obese by 2030, and there will be no more thin or normal weight people at all by 2048, according to a new study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health published in the July issue of Obesity:
National survey data show that the prevalence of overweight and obese adults in the U.S. has increased steadily over the past three decades,” said Youfa Wang, MD, PhD, lead author of the study and associate professor with the Bloomberg School’s Center for Human Nutrition. “If these trends continue, more than 86 percent of adults will be overweight or obese by 2030 with approximately 96 percent of non-Hispanic black women and 91 percent of Mexican-American men affected. This would result in 1 of every 6 health care dollars spent in total direct health care costs paying for overweight and obesity-related costs.”
By 2048, all American adults would become overweight or obese, while black women will reach that state by 2034. In children, the prevalence of overweight (BMI 95th percentile, 30%) will nearly double by 2030.”
The related health-care costs will add up to almost a trillion dollars, accounting for 16 to 18 percent of all health care expenditures.
The result will not only be a public health catastrophe. if these trends continue, there is a strong likelihood that there will be a significant drop in scholastic achievement across the U.S., as research shows a significant association between being overweight and decreased cognitive functioning. Additionally, scientists have found decreased scholastic performance among middle schoolers who were overweight:
Overweight students demonstrated a 0.4 letter grade lower GPA (on a 4.00 scale) and 11% lower national percentile reading scores than their nonoverweight peers.”
Researchers have also found a strong correlation between lower math proficiency and increased weight, although this doesn’t signal causality.
A nation composed entirely of overweight people will adversely effect the environment, according to recent research by scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. They argue that obesity is linked to higher carbon emissions, as overweight and obese people are more likely to resort to driving and other physical labor saving devices.
According to their research, obese people consume 18 percent more food energy than lean people – 2960 calories compared with 2,500 calories for people with body mass indexes of 29 versus 24.5
The increased demand for food will result in additional energy costs, as it requires almost six tons of vegetable protein to create one ton of meat protein. And this in turn will result in increased greenhouse gas emissions, as the livestock industry alone accounts for 37-percent of all anthropogenic methane emissions, and accounts for significant deforestation.
According to the the age, an Australian newspaper, the combination of increased use of carbon-powered transportation and methane emissions from livestock and people will lead to more and stronger hurricanes.
There are notable caveats with the research findings and hypotheses: there is at present no data showing a causal link between increased enteric fermentation, human farting and hurricane incidence and strength.
Additionally, as the trend data is based on body mass index, athletes with significant muscle mass are likely to have been counted as being obese or overweight. It is thus possible that a small proportion of the U.S. population – NBA players, for example – will not be overweight as judged by the actual fat content of their bodies. The key determining factor for major league and amateur sports is whether any children will be inclined to exercise at all by the middle of this century, as there is, at present, a significant correlation between low participation in school athletics, poor physical performance and being overweight and obese.
The final caveat is that trends which appear to be increasing upwards are not bound to keep ascending by logical necessity. We can’t predict what impact knowledge will have on human agency and physiology. Even so, it is highly, highly unlikely, given education, lifestyle choices, increasing awareness of the importance of diet, and genetic factors that everyone in the U.S. is going to be overweight or obese. Public health researchers are hoping, in effect, to rule out the possibility by declaring it inevitable, even though there’s nothing inevitable about it at all. Whether implausibility proves to be an effective public health stratagem remains to be seen.