As noted last week, global obesity has more than tripled among men and doubled among women in the past four decades. In the face of such a global health threat, equally shocking is the number of roadblocks faced in confronting the issue. Not the least of which is a constant upward spiraling cost of medication needed to treat the broad spectrum of diseases brought on by seriously excessive weight gain.
According to a new report from the Journal of the American Medical Association, we can now add to the list the cost of hormone insulin, considered one of the most important treatments for diabetes. According to the report, insulin costs climbed nearly 200 percent between 2002 and 2013. While other diabetes medications also increased in price during that period, total spending on insulin in 2013 was greater than the combined spending on all other diabetes drug treatments.
The report goes on to the say that the price of insulin is unlikely to decline due to current regulations and the cost involved with bringing comparable products to the market. This, in turn, will affect the amount of money people with diabetes pay out of pocket for treatment. It will also impact how they manage their condition. Obesity is considered the number one risk factor for type 2 diabetes and type 2 diabetes is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputation.
From a more global perspective, the World Health Organization has issued a report stating that the combination of aging populations and rising levels of obesity across the world mean diabetes is now becoming "a defining issue for global public health." According to the WHO report, between 1980 and 2014, no country studied saw any meaningful decrease in diabetes prevalence. The poorest of countries are now among the most impacted. The tiny Samoan islands have among the highest rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in the world. At present, 1 in 3 residents of American Samoa suffer from diabetes.
Stephen McGarvey is an epidemiologist at Brown University who has spent more than two decades working in the region. According to McGarvey, what happened in Samoa isn't so different from what's happening all over the world. Over the past three decades, unhealthy, imported foods began to flood the local markets and Samoans began developing a taste for this cheap, ultra-processed fast food. Samoans traditional diet consists of mostly taro, breadfruit, coconut, bananas and seafood. On top of those foods, people started buying foods coming from the outside that were cheaper, more calorific and unhealthy, McGarvey recently explained in an interview on NPR. As the islands' economies modernized, more and more Samoans started working desk jobs. Cars and buses replaced walking.
Because the Samoas are so tiny, these economic and cultural changes quickly took hold. The average Samoan's weight shot up; health declined. The change occurred so quickly that it caught the attention of epidemiologists around the world.
Today Samoans, well aware that they've got a problem, are working to fix it. The process is still in its infancy and the interventions are not unknown to us.
They are teaching proper nutrition in school, educating adults about proper diet and urging politicians to pass smart public health policies. They are also promoting local agricultural production of South Pacific vegetables and fruits, and encourage more people to buy and eat them. But undoing the damage of the introduction of a disastrous diet and a more sedentary lifestyle are proving to be a hard task and will take time.
Still, there are lessons the situation in Samoas can teach the rest of the world.
As a literate and educated society, we are constantly exposed to a vast amount of information demonstrating how the food choices we make impact our health; of studies that show that increasing intake of fruits and vegetables is linked to lower risk of premature death. Studies that tell us that eating a diet high in fiber can decrease the risk of coronary heart disease, colon cancer, and death and also protects against type 2 diabetes.
A study published last month in The Journal of Alzheimer's Disease has demonstrated that regular walking, cycling, swimming, dancing and even gardening by itself can substantially reduce the risk of Alzheimer's.
We may not be able to do much about the cost of medicine or medical care. But if we commit to changing the way we eat and exercise, we can go a long way in protecting our health. It is within our power.
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: Isabel Sommerfeld