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Why Focusing On The Obesity Epidemic Distracts Us From The Aging Epidemic

Posted on 31 October 2015

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Large amounts of precious resources are being spent on encouraging weight loss and healthy living. While the intention of trying to reinforce healthy living is laudable, the evidence is that our resources are being wasted on minimal benefits.

Society considers obesity a big threat that needs to be overcome, but being thin is seen as a panacea

The diseases caused by biological aging carry on incessantly taking the lives of 100 000 people every day. While age 87 is the most common age of death for people in the western world, little progress has occurred during the past decades.

Currently by the statistics of WHO 39% of the adult population aged 18+ in the world are overweight, and 13% are obese; in the US 35% are obese and 69% overweight respectively. These statistics are alarming, and a lot of people are obviously concerned, seeing obesity as the major cause of ill health and taking action to save resources and create a healthy population.  

Based on these statistics, in an effort to improve citizen health, governments in Europe are working hard to ban candy machines targeted to children in schools. Laws are also created to put taxes on unhealthy foods to benefit children. The desired outcome from this nannying is a reduction in the number of heart attacks that will occur in the 2060s-2070s brought on by the metabolic syndrome these children are expected to suffer as a consequence of a suboptimal diet. This reasoning is presuming that medicine won’t change before then, despite medical advances that with the right investments and work, might have considerable impact upon both the premature mortality caused by bad lifestyle choices, as well as the unavoidable aging damage itself.

How bad is obesity?

Less than 1% of all heart attacks occur in people under the age of 40 (of which a certain number are due to genetic defects and not related to atherosclerosis), and this pool of statistics includes many very obese people in the age range of 20-40. I do not want to belittle the fact that very obese adolescents are developing diabetes, and that sugar is the culprit behind the metabolic dysfunction – causing cancer and heart disease in one’s upper middle age. But let’s face the facts, the number of people below 40 who suffer fatal consequences from their weight remains very scarce. The leading causes of death below age 45 in Western Europe are by far accident and suicide. 

Currently 90% of us are expected to reach 67, whether healthy or unhealthy

The increased life expectancy, longevity prevalence (100+) as well as exceptional longevity (110+) in regions such as Okinawa known for a diet low in calories and plenty of vegetables and green tea, is well established. It is also known that this avoidance of particular age-related diseases is lost among genetically okinawan people adopting a western diet abroad. This offers tantalizing (but not strictly proven) clues that dietary factors might influence maximum longevity (~101 years in Western Europe for the top 1% born a century ago). Nevertheless the evidence by epidemiological studies in Europe is that people keeping fit and active in their retirement years often have better-than-average functionality and then rapidly decline in their mid-late 80s due to pathologies resulting from an unaltered intrinsic aging process. 

An active, healthy lifestyle is important, but it can only yield so much

An active, healthy lifestyle is important, but it can only yield so much

What needs to be understood is that there is no “fountain of youth” on a macroeconomic level to be earned through citizens living healthy, and many of the costs needed to implement “healthy living” are perhaps better spent focusing on using regenerative medicine to restore function to aging tissues. Even if obesity was outlawed, the medical expenses might go down less than you think in contrast to age-related disease; the gains are minimal compared to real breakthroughs that could give you more time regardless of your diet. 

So eat your burgers and fries, statistics show you can be “almost” as fat as you want and still count on reaching 60. For that matter just by being “moderately” obese (BMI 30-40), instead of morbidly obese (BMI 40+) you are still expected to reach 75. If we want to make some serious headway, we need to focus on aging itself instead of obsessing over expanding waistlines alone at the expense of real progress.

Guest contributor Victor Björk

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