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Surprising Science

With Economic Growth Comes a Heavier, Less-Healthy World

The economic growth of the last few decades has made global populations heavier than ever before. The trend carries serious health consequences as well as threatening future growth.

What’s the Latest Development?

The world, not just the United States, is getting much heavier, resulting in serious public health concerns and posing larger questions about the effects of a wide economic girth. If current trends continue, half of American adults will be overweight by 2030. Similar trends are being seen in countries like Britain, Mexico, South Africa, Brazil and Saudi Arabia, where the Bedouin culture of hosting feasts has made overeating a nightly affair. As countries develop economically, diets shift toward more fat and sugar, and natural exercise like biking is replaced by cars and motor scooters. 

What’s the Big Idea?

Because obesity is associated with prosperity, it is often met with cultural approval, particularly in countries that have suffered from long periods of privation. But an overweight population carries with it serious consequences: “It lowers workers’ productivity and in the longer term raises the risk of myriad ailments, including diabetes, heart disease, strokes and some cancers; it also affects mental health. In America, obesity-related illness accounted for one-fifth of total health-care spending in 2005, according to one paper.”

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