Treating the Obesity Epidemic

Drugmaker Vivus saw its experimental weight-loss medication, Qnexa, pass two Phase III clinical trials C&EN reported on September 10, and the company’s share price skyrocket.

The rewards of developing a safe and effective anti-obesity medication will be in the tens of billions of dollars, according to Bloomberg. Of course, such apparent breakthroughs are going to hit the headlines, big time. After all, who wants to reduce calorie intake and increase exercise levels when popping a pill could solve one’s weight problems?

In the developed world, overweight and obesity (BMI > 30) and other diet-related problems, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome, are on the increase. And, while it might be assumed that the billions of people who live in abject poverty with the daily threat of acutely lethal diseases, such as malaria, have other things to worry about, the diseases we commonly associate with the “Western” lifestyle are emerging across the globe. The WHO says that, perhaps with the exception of sub-Saharan Africa, deaths caused by chronic diseases dominate the mortality statistics.

Astoundingly, WHO figures from 2005 suggested that there are more people suffering from overweight-related problems than malnutrition. At the time, globally there were more than 1.6 billion people aged over 15 years who were overweight and 400 million of those were clinically obese, while around 800 million suffered from malnutrition. Those numbers are already changing. The WHO predicts that by 2015, approximately 2.3 billion adults will be overweight and more than 700 million will be obese.

The costs in terms of loss of quality of life and impact on healthcare providers in the developed world are likely to be unsustainable in terms of demands on surgical and drug treatments.

While much of the focus on the obesity epidemic is aimed at the US, high rates of cardiovascular disease associated with poor nutritional choices, dietary trends, and exercise issues ring just as true in the UK.

Andreas Anastasiou of the Department of Agricultural and Food Economics at the University of Reading, and a quantitative risk analyst at the Bank of Santander, London, UK and Athanasios Anastasiou a lecturer at the Technological Education Institute of Patras, Greece and an economist at the University of Patras, recently highlighted the sorry state of the British diet and the burden the growing obesity problem will ultimately have on the economy and society as a whole.

Here are just a few of the UK obesity facts and figures cited by the authors:

  • 30,000 – deaths a year
  • 9 years – average life reduction
  • 18 million – working days lost
  • £1 billion – cost to National Health Service
  • £2.5 billion – cost to the economy

Obesity and associated chronic diseases are a serious threat to a nation’s health and well-being, the researchers say. “Their impact on the economy and society as a whole is tremendous exhibiting enormous healthcare costs and losses in working hours and years of life.” They suggest that improvements will happen if long-term changes to food choices and dietary habits are made, whether this should come top down from government and healthcare providers is difficult to say. How ever it is achieved, you can be almost certain that popping a pill will not be the cure all, despite what pharmaceutical share prices might suggest.

Research Blogging Icon Andreas G. Anastasiou, & Athanasios Anastasiou (2009). The effects of current dietary trends and consumption patterns on health: evidence from the UK Int. J. Behavioural and Healthcare Research, 1 (3), 318-333


21 thoughts on “Treating the Obesity Epidemic

  1. Great, now our wonderful politicians will become the police of everything we eat. I am sick of the govt and liberals telling me what to eat, how much to eat, when to smoke (even tho I don”t smoke it”s just a reference to big govt), what I can publically say and most of all that I can”t talk about God in schools. People–it”s time to stand up and take back our country from the dems and republicans and start over with the way our founding fathers meant for it to be!!

  2. Vikki,

    I know it seems counter intuitive to increase fat intake to lose weight. But the fact that you have a hunger problem hints at the possibility that your body is starving for materials needed to make hormones, namely cholesterol and certain kinds of fats. Diana Schwarzbein may be able to help you understand the particulars. Often, when over weight people add fat to the diet they gain weight initially as the body heals. Then, as the hormone systems become fully functional the body rebuilds muscle tissue, the metabolism ramps up, and weight loss occurs.

  3. I just watched the sugar video.

    I’m NOT going to switch back to a higher fat diet, because low fat is the only thing that has ever worked for me, and I will not risk regaining the weight I’ve kept off for over a year now. Now I am not totally strict about “no” fat as I am doing a little olive oil and the occasional handful of nuts. But I take Alli anytime I have meats or eggs or other undesirable fats, and choose nearly all lower fat meats. But I have not been able to lose any more, as I still have an appetite like a horse and I am eating as healthy as I can stand, and exercising as much as I have time for. So I’m ordering some barley bread products and will do my best to make sure that though I can’t low-carb, I can avoid consuming fructose without plenty of fiber attached to it. You may also want to watch Food, Inc. because they also highlight the role of refined corn products in fattening cattle and other livestock as well as its prevalence as a cheap carbohydrate source in our current food economy.

    As far as helping patients and families with obese chidren – many people with massive sugar soda or juice intake get very ornery when you suggest giving it up for water and low-fat dairy drinks, they can’t imagine life without unlimited sweet drinks – it really does seem like an addiction.

    I did see one problem with the sugar video – early on, these is a slide where BMI increase per extra sugary drink may be as little as 0.1kg/m2 and the odds ratio for obesity is well within the CI (meaning not statisticaly significant.) Also, I thought that modest alcohol intake was overall favroable for lipid profiles, especially HDLs. My LDL runs high and HDL low – even worse on statin, which I actually do not tolerate and will not be taking anyways – and the LDL is the small dense (bad) kind to boot. Any other diet suggestions for me?

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