When Sweet Spots Turn Sour

Readers, who recently followed my postings from the XI International Congress on Obesity in Stockholm Stockholm last week on FaceBook, will perhaps recall a brief note on a talk by Garry Egger, Australia, raising the question whether we may have stayed too long at the “sweet spot” of economic growth resulting in both the obesity epidemic and climate change?

Together with his Australian colleague Boyd Swinburn, Egger has written a short book called, Planet Obesity, in which the two authors further elaborate on this notion.

The basic tenet of the very readable short treatise is simply put the following: obesity and climate change are both the seemingly inevitable consequences of economic growth that focusses solely on maximising (rather than optimising) consumption.

In every example cited in the book, economic development is inadvertently accompanied by an increase in body weight (first in the rich, then in the poor), till in highly economically “developed” societies obesity assumes epidemic proportions.

Readers of these pages certainly do not need to be reminded of the pandemic nature of obesity now affecting rapidly developing countries like China and India.

To state the converse, the authors present those rare examples of (involuntary) modern-era economic downturns (as in Cuba after departure of the Soviets or Nauro after the depletion of their natural super-phosphate bonanza), which were accompanied by a marked decrease in overweight and obesity associated with reduced incidence of complications like diabetes and heart disease.

While the authors fall just short of suggesting that all governments should now pursue the utopian goal of economic sustainability rather than growth, they do point to a few programs that may nudge things in a more positive direction.

Whether countries are quite ready to embrace instruments like personal carbon trading (PCT) or whether majorities can be found to support the creation of more equitable societies remains doubtful. But I certainly do support their views on the promotion of public transportation and restrictions on advertising to children.

Although I do not seriously expect anyone (especially no governments I know of) to pay the least attention to Egger’s and Swinburn’s message, I do very much recommend the read for a concise, well-rounded, and mind-opening discussion of the causes behind the causes behind the causes of the obesity epidemic.

Summerland, BC

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