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by Donald B. Ardell, Ph. D.
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Wellness in the Headlines
(Don's Report to the World)

The Effects Of Obesity on Future Lifespans: Wellness Insights For Stemming A National Crisis And Reversing A Decline in Longevity

Thursday August 24, 2006


"Elsewhere, an article in the magazine Obesity said that infants and children are more likely to be overweight, and so are readers of the magazine Obesity." Andy Borowitz, The Borowitz Report, August 10, 2006

It was odd to read that today's children are likely to have shorter, less-healthy lives than their parents. (New England Journal of Medicine, March 17, 2005) How can this be, given the fact that contemporary youth live in an era of the wellness movement -- and a time when life expectancy has increased for over two centuries? What's more, today's youth have a nearly limitless choice of medications and high-tech medical treatments, excellent public sanitation and readily available antibiotics and vaccines. Is the problem, as Andy Borowitz implies, that too many people are reading the magazine Obesity? Or, are there more sensible explanations? More important, are there effective ways to reverse this unfortunate trend?

One reason there IS an obesity magazine is there is so much obesity. There is more of it among our youth than ever before. A 2004 Institute of Medicine report puts the number of obese children over age six at nine million. This is double the number of preschool children and triple the number of six-to-11-year-olds who were obese in the 1970s.  

Obesity increases the risks of heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes in children. Obesity is linked with a five-year reduction in the average lifespan of the society. Some policy experts urge politicians to take immediate steps, including federal legislation, to prevent and to treat obesity in the young. Most common among the action recommendations are calls for bans on junk-food in schools, on advertising of such foods to kids, as well as calls for a variety of physical education initiatives. Such steps are all well and good. However, more than this will be required if today's youth are to live healthier, as well as longer lives.

In 1900, the lifespan in America was 47.3. I shudder to think of all my subscribers who would be dead now if that figure had not improved over the course of the past century. With no advances, there would be few to no competitors in my 65-69 age group in road races, duathlons and triathlons. Fortunately, the current average lifespan is 77.6 years. A similar 47.3 year gain in life expectancy into the future, perhaps from banning junk foods in schools and instituting more phys ed classes, would render the average lifespan in the year 2112 a robust 124.9 years.

Imagine the excitement of watching men and women in their 120's crossing finish lines at road races and multi-sport competitions, to the cheers of the multitudes, with "Rocky" music blaring from loudspeakers. It would be inspirational.

The U.S. Social Security Administration, however, does not project the same 47.3 year gain for the next century that was realized over the last one. Their projections foresee lifespans only into the mid-80s -- unless, as some fear, the obesity epidemic gets worse.

In any event, let's start now to create and implement policies for mandatory phys ed classes, junkfood bans in schools and proscriptions on advertising for health-hazardous products. Also, let's have campaigns to promote safer sex and better nutrition and discourage insane behaviors like smoking. Most important of all, let's encourage wellness education and wellness lifestyle reward systems (in other words, attractive incentives) for everybody. Remember, the goal in all is enhanced life quality, not just longevity.

In a wellness mindset, life quality elements include personal freedoms, a strong ethic of responsibility, ties to supportive communities, exceptional physical fitness, resilience, an ability to think critically, a good sense of humor and a tendency to look on the bright side of life.

All of which is what I recommend you do right now. Be well.

Domain: physical
Subdomain: appearance and aging

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