Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The explosion in obesity

This chart comes courtesy of Tim Iacono, and it absolutely blew me away. I knew that obesity rates had been soaring, but I didn't appreciate how much and how quickly.

Every state in the country has seen an increase in obesity over the last 20 years, and many of these increases have been dramatic--consider that in 1994, not a single state had an obesity rate greater than 20%, but by 2008, only one state (Colorado) has a rate below that same 20% threshold. Tennessee and Oklahoma somehow pulled off the incredible feat of going from sub-15% to over-30% during this time period. Yikes.

Ultimately, this map raises as many questions for me (Why did it soar so quickly? Is it a result of a broad-based change in our food supply? Or is it due to a change in behavior in response to economic factors, like consistently "accommodative" monetary policy?) as it does concerns (How the hell are we going to afford to pay for all the health problems that this obesity creates? Am I totally certain that I'm doing everything in my power to avoid becoming part of that statistical trend?). I think this dynamic therefore has incredibly wide-ranging implications for our nation, encompassing issues both political and societal, and both in terms of public health and economic sustainability.

Along with the fate of Social Security and other public and private pension plans, I think that this dynamic will turn out to be one of the most important ones to keep track of over the next 20 to 25 years. How we as a society decide to deal with our ever-growing group of elderly citizens, as well as our overweight (or otherwise unhealthy) citizens will in large part determine the fate of our nation as a whole. Stay tuned.

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