Should obesity be considered a bigger threat than smoking?
American scientists are warning that obesity has overtaken smoking as the biggest threat to people’s health. This is not a particularly new issue. While we are slowly reducing the numbers of people who are smoking the obesity ‘epidemic’ continues. To make matters worse give up smoking and you are likely to put on weight. So out of the frying pan and into the fire.
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Smoking is falling, obesity is rising.
In a sample of 3.5 million adults in the US, 'Between 1993 and 2008, the proportion of smokers fell by 18.5 per cent while the proportion who were obese rose by 85 per cent.' (http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/obesity-now-a-bigger-threat-than-smoking-1857994.html)
Part of the reason for this is that there are now clear ways to stop smoking that are demonstrated to work. There is no surefire, easy to measure way of losing large amounts of weight other than not to allow yourself to become overweight in the first place.
This is a temporary situation, it could change. Smoking is falling because we considered it a high threat and so concentrated on it. If we stop focussing on it, pour less money into it, will it start to go out of control again? When we concentrate on obesity, bring about measures to deal with it, will it suddenly become less of a threat?
Also, that we don't know precisely how to deal with obesity reinforces the point that we don't actually know enough about obesity yet to make a clear decision on how big a risk it is.
Obesity will shorten life expectancy in the future.
While smoking currently causes more actual deaths than obesity, obesity causes much more illness that shortens life expectancy than smoking causes deaths and overall causes more damage. Obesity causes a decrease in QALYs (Quality-Adjusted Life Years) meaning it is likely to cause lower life expectancy in the future.
According to the article in the BBC News (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7946290.stm):
'Severe obesity - a BMI of 40 to 50, which applies to about 2% of the UK population - reduced life expectancy by about 10 years.
Moderate obesity - a BMI of 30-39, which applies to one in four UK adults - reduced life expectancy by three years.'
QALYs are a vague measurement that cannot be used to come to an important decision that requires precise analysis of a situation. They rely on a concept of quality of life that is still under debate, is largely a value judgement and varies by individual, and is impossible to attain a perfect score on.
We also don't have direct links between many diseases and obesity. The research that links obesity to asthma (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/6512125.stm) did not find the actual reason for the increased risk. The increased risk of heart disease is caused by a deficiency in vitamins and by blood fats caused by too many carbs – also a leading cause of obesity – not by obesity itself. Diabetes is caused by a fatty liver that can be the result of several dietary problems that also cause obesity. Cancer is not actually caused by obesity at all, it just exacerbates the risk if one is already present.
With technology comes laziness
As a society we are obsessed with methods that will allow us to do anything more efficiently. Perfect example being internet shopping, we can do anything without leaving our homes now, we don't even need to expend energy by writing a letter, we can use email, MSN, skype even! The problem isn't just with the how much we are eating, it's with the lack of activity we are doing. By activity I mean simply moving around, not exercise. We drive to work, we get a lift up the stairs, we sit at our desks for 8 hours a day. Today's society makes it very easy to do everything without going anywhere. Just look at the people in Wall-e, that is where we are heading.
Comparing two great threats is beside the point.
While we're busy arguing over which is the bigger threat, neither is being dealt with. They're both very high threats and we need to eliminate both of them.
We don't have the resources to deal with both threats at the same time, as both would require our full attention. Therefore, we need to decide which is the most urgent before we can make a clear plan of action in which both can be dealt with, one at a time. Gathering as many facts as possible will also help us to know exactly what we're dealing with so we don't make ill-informed decisions.
Obesity is not well enough understood to make such a statement.
As has been mentioned before in response to several arguments, we don't actually know enough about obesity yet - we don't know its exact causes, which diseases it is linked to and how, or how to stop it. How can we possibly decide how much of a threat something is if we have can't even agree on a formal definition of it?
How much of a formal definition do we need? If our body mass index is over 30, we in the class 1 obesity groups and there are two more on top of that to account for those who are morbidly obese. We also have ways of calculating muscle and fat percentages in order to rule out athletes who are heavier due to their excess muscle density. A doctor will be able to tell us if we are obese or not.
We all know the causes of obesity – too many calories and too few hours exercising. To claim anything else is idiocy. The only exception would be water retention, but this would only be applicable to those who are suffering from a particular ailment, if it makes them obese then they have greater things to worry about.
The afflictions that obesity causes are also well documented; heart disease, type 2 diabetes, breathing difficulties, and cancer.
With all this covered, we do have a sufficiently well defined concept of obesity. To say otherwise is like asking ‘what counts as smoking’, ‘how much do we actually have to inhale’? Such questions are of no help to us for the purposes of this debate.
The recession will eventually deal with obesity.
We eventually won't have enough money to eat too much or to eat fatty and sugary foods that are often expensive. As fuel prices increase we also won't be able to rely on cars as much and will be forced to exercise through walking more.
Obesity is caused by a poor diet and lack of nutrients more than it is by eating too much or specifically by fatty or sugary foods. People on low budgets are more likely to choose literally just to eat the cheapest thing they can find eg. Noodles, rice, pasta every day, as many students already do, rather than trying to eat something nutritious.
Even if the recession does lessen the problem of obesity, it will also lessen smoking, already an extremely expensive addiction, possibly to a greater degree as nobody is going to give up food, necessary to live, to fund smoking, so it is not an argument against obesity being a greater risk than smoking.
What do you think?