For all but the recent fraction of their history, the challenge facing humans was finding enough food to survive. That remains a problem for about 795 million people globally who do not have enough food to lead healthy lives.
Yet in much of the developed world the modern health problem is having too much to eat, with poor food choices from this abundance contributing to an epidemic of obesity.
Despite nutritional labels and efforts to educate the public about the correlation between health problems and obesity, the trend continues, most alarmingly among younger people. A new analysis, published by the American Cancer Society in the Lancet Public Health, finds a correlation between increases in certain cancers and rising obesity among those aged 24-49.
Cancers traditionally associated with people in their 60s and 70s are hitting the millennial generation. The six obesity-related cancers cited in the analysis are colorectal, endometrial, gallbladder, pancreatic, kidney and multiple myeloma. Researchers found cancers in this group are double among millennials as compared to their baby boom parents at the same age. If trends continue, seven in 10 people born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s will develop weight problems, compared to half of boomers.
While the causation between excessive weight gain and increased cancer is not yet clear, that there is a link is settled science. The new analysis adds to the compelling case that trimming obesity rates must be a public health priority. Obesity is already known to cause heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It is driving up health care costs.
The prevalence of obesity is about 40 percent among adults, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Public education about healthy eating and lifestyles must become a higher priority, but it is up against a fast-food industry that spends $4.6 billion annually. Communities need to work toward providing healthier food choices in poor urban centers. Doctors must treat weight gain as a genuine health problem with strategies to address it.
People with college degrees and higher incomes had lower obesity prevalence compared with those with less education and lower incomes, according to the CDC, making increased access to higher education and opportunities part of the solution.
If the U.S. fails to address its weight problem it will continue to get fat, but it won’t get happy.