Thursday, June 14, 2012

Obesity vs. Superbugs: Who Wins When the Food System Fails? - June 13th, 2012
Duking it out this spring to be crowned "scourge of the 21st century": the dual public health epidemics of obesity and antibiotic resistance.

Obesity, the reigning champion, costs the nation more than $190 billion per year in direct treatment costs alone -- a figure more than $40 billion higher than estimates from just two years ago. It's an epidemic creating a future where many of our children will live shorter, more disabled lives than our own. Maybe no other health problem drives America harder towards fiscal insolvency.

Just last month, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation. The new report highlights the monumental task before us. There are a constellation of factors in our collective food system that, together, contribute to the epidemic. They include the ubiquitous marketing of junk food to children; school and other child environments where it's simply easier and more convenient to eat junk food or drink sugar-sweetened beverages than it is to drink water or to eat healthy foods, like fruits and vegetables; and agricultural research and policy (read: the Farm Bill) that fails to ensure "an optimal mix of crops and farming methods for meeting the Dietary Guidelines for Americans," i.e., national guidelines for what constitutes healthy eating.

The IOM report reinforces that there is no magic bullet solution; rather, we must work to tackle all these factors at the same time. Simply put, they constitute a failed system, and we can't afford not to act.

Our challenger: the epidemic of bacterial infections that are becoming harder and sometimes impossible to treat with antibiotics. The challenger has speed on her side. Resistant infections can kill quickly and with little warning -- by contrast, the consequences of obesity (diabetes, heart disease, stroke) take years to decades to kill their victims.

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