No Country For Thin Men: 75% Of Americans To Be Obese By 2020

Tyler Durden's picture

While much heart palpitations are generated every month based on how much of a seasonal adjustment factor is used to fudge US employment, many forget that a much more serious long term issue for the US (assuming anyone cares what happens in the long run) is a far more ominous secular shift in US population - namely the fact that everyone is getting fatter fast, aka America's "obesity epidemic." And according to a just released analysis by BNY ConvergEx' Nicholas Colas, things are about to get much worse, because as the OECD predicts, by 2020 75% of US the population will be obese. What this implies for the tens of trillions in underfunded healthcare "benefits" in the future is all too clear. In the meantime, thanks to today's economic "news", fat people everywhere can get even fatter courtesy of ever freer money from the Chairman, about to be paradropped once more to keep nominal prices high and devalue the dollar even more in the great "race to debase". Our advice - just pretend you are going to college and take out a $100,000 loan, spending it all on Taco Bells. But don't forget to save enough for the latest iPad, and the next latest to be released in a few weeks, ad inf.

From ConvergEx:

Summary: It’s a shocking anomaly that a highly developed country with the world’s largest GDP also has the world’s most obvious obesity endemic. Nearly 34% of United States citizens are obese, which is triple the rate of most of its peer countries. Notably, Americans both drink and smoke less than much of the industrialized world, making this problem all the more puzzling. The causes appear to be largely cultural, with low food costs playing a supporting role. Obesity in the U.S. is more prevalent along certain groups, but by some estimates an astounding 3 out of 4 Americans will be obese or overweight by 2020. The obvious comparison here is to smoking, a public health challenge that has declined in popularity for decades due to higher taxes and public awareness of the risks involved. The answers to the obesity problem will be much tougher, however. And with widespread use of government money for Food Stamps (+20% of all households) and school lunches (+30% of all children), the Federal government is squarely in the middle of the debate.

Consider some wacky “all-American” dining options. Burger King’s Manhattan Whopper Bar offers an aptly-named “Pizza Burger”– a ginormous cheeseburger accentuated by pepperoni and chopped into 6 slices. Denny’s spices up the classic but boring grilled cheese by driving 4 mozzarella sticks into the already gooey cheddar goodness (Fried Cheese Melt). And IHOP delivers fluffy pancakes stuffed with hunks of cheesecake drowning in whipped cream and splashed with powdered sugar (New York Cheesecake Pancakes). Not to mention they’re only 4 bucks.

Not to be outdone, Las Vegas is home to another appropriately named (and self-proclaimed) producer of “nutritional pornography” – the Heart Attack Grill. Menu options include a “Quadruple Bypass Burger,” “ButterFat Shake” and all-you-can-eat “Flatliner Fries.” If you’re over 350 pounds you eat for free, and shots are served in 4 ounce pours. The restaurant made headlines last month when a 40-something man suffered a heart attack (what else?) while chowing down in its dining room. Go ahead, you can chuckle – he’s alive and kicking somewhere out West. At the time of his heart attack he’d been eating the 6,000 calorie “Triple Bypass Burger” featuring 3 half-pound patties, half a fried onion, cheese, and 15 slices of bacon.

So is it really any surprise that 1 in 3 Americans are obese? The United States has a bigger obesity problem than any other industrialized country in the world, with a 33.8% obesity rate, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Note that obesity is defined according to a body mass index (BMI), which calculates human body fat based on weight and height. BMI readings of 30 or greater signify obesity, while a score between 25 and 30 indicates “overweightness.”

A typical man of 5’10” should weigh, for example, about 170 pounds. The U.S.’s next closest “competitor” is Mexico with a 30% obesity rate, while Canada and the U.K. have rates of 24% and 23%, respectively. Other highly developed countries such as Germany, Italy and France have rates below 15%, and Japan is all the way down at 3.9%. India’s citizens are the trimmest, with a 2.1% obesity rate. The average for the 34 OECD member countries is 16.9% – exactly half that of the United States.

Obesity is one obvious culprit for the exorbitant amount of money that Americans spend on health care. Health expenditures (including capital investment in health care infrastructure) are just shy of $8,000 a year per person, which is almost 50% more than in any other country, and represents nearly one-fifth of total GDP. Expenditures in Norway and Switzerland, numbers 2 and 3 on the list, represent a little more than $5,000 per person. The Brits spend about $3,500 a person, while the Japanese spend just $2,900 per person. Indonesia brings up the rear with only $99 spent per capita, although that comparison is obviously skewed by its emerging economy status.

Despite access to high-quality health care services, facilities and infrastructure, Americans live 78.2 years on average, or more than a year less than the OECD member nation average of 79.5 years. Our neighbors to the north and nearly all of our European counterparts live somewhere between 80 and 82 years, while the Japanese live longer than anyone else (83 years).

Just to quickly check off a couple of obvious other behavioral/health boxes, we know our lives generally aren’t cut short by smoking or excessive alcohol consumption. Sixteen percent of Americans are daily smokers, compared with the OECD average of 22.1%. In France, for example, more than 1 in 4 people are regular smokers, while a whopping 40% of Greeks fess up to having at least one daily smoke. Comparatively we don’t drink that much either. On average for ages 15 and up, Americans consume 8.8 liters (298 ounces) of alcohol annually. The OECD average is 9.1 liters, and the French top the chart (surprise, surprise) at 12.3 liters.

There’s no denying that the mortality rate phenomenon is at least somewhat of an obesity issue. In the U.S., Japan and select industrialized European countries, the correlation between obesity rates and life expectancy is greater than 80% (refer to this chart and several others following the text ). Obesity is a disease and while it isn’t often listed as a “Cause of Death” the outcomes are deadly. Since the cardiovascular system is the number one affected area when someone is overweight, it should come as no surprise that more people die from heart attacks in the U.S. than in most other countries. For every 100,000 Americans, 129 die from a heart attack. The OECD average is 117, while in the “fit” countries of Japan and Korea heart attack fatalities occur in fewer than 40 out of 100,000 people.

As far as root causes, it’s a basic economic principle that people consume more of things that are cheaper, and food in the U.S. is relatively cheap compared to the rest of the world. The food component represents 14% of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), meaning that on average 14% of our total expenditures is spent on food.However, the “Food at home” component of the CPI is a mere 8%, and since most Americans eat most of their meals at home, this is likely a more logical number to use. In China and India, on the other hand, food weightings in their respective inflation indexes are 31% and 27%. Yes, this is clearly the result of lower incomes and food prices set to a large degree by global trends; the correlation/causation to consumption is still valid, however. The Chinese and Indians rank in the bottom 3 in terms of obesity rates, at 2.9% and 2.1%, respectively. As for more economically comparable countries, Canada (17% of CPI), Australia (17%), Italy (16%) and the U.K. (11%) have more similar food component cost weightings to the U.S.’s, and their citizens are substantially slimmer. Either way (economic or cultural explanation), mass industrialization of farms and food processing in the States has resulted in a dramatic lower food prices and an unmistakable trend to overconsumption.

Perhaps Americans work so much that we simply don’t have time to be active. After all, we work more than anyone else in the world, right? Wrong. We take less time off, but in terms of hours worked per week, we have it pretty good. At an average of 33.6 hours per week, Americans actually work less than the French (37.6 hours per week), who have a reputation for more slack work habits. People in the U.S. also work less than those in Japan (40.7 hours per week) and Turkey (49.7 hours per week), but the Japanese and Turkish have much lower obesity rates, as do the French.

However, while we work just as much as (if not more than) most other people, Americans take fewer vacation days. Including paid public holidays and voluntary vacation time, workers in the U.S. have an average of 25 days off per year. This compares with 40 in France, 36 in the U.K. and 31 in Italy, for example. Brazilians take the most time off (41 days), while Canadians take the least (19 days). Vacation time doesn’t appear to be correlated to obesity, but helps to validate the notion that Americans are among the hardest-working people in the world, even if hours worked are in line with other countries.

We’re left with a rather unspecific, and somewhat unsatisfying, conclusion that the obesity endemic in America is caused by broad cultural factors and personal responsibility issues. High-risk groups include African-American and Mexican-American women, who have respective obesity rates of 46% and 35%, and those in lower income groups. Women with lower levels of educational achievement are 1.3 times more likely to be obese, though virtually no disparity exists among men of varying education levels. And Southerners and Midwesterners carry more weight than their Northern and Western counterparts.

Nonetheless, 75% of Americans will be obese or overweight by 2020, according to OECD projections. We’ll have to see how the ongoing national health care debate plays out, but this undoubtedly means more government spending in terms of both preventative care and educational programs. In its food stamp program, the government has already begun educating recipients on nutrition, yet soft drinks, candy, cookies and ice cream are eligible items for purchase with food stamp benefits. I would expect this to change considering we’re on track to be 40% obese in the next decade, and likely even more government intervention will be necessary to curb some culturally-ingrained bad habits.

In an admittedly altruistic way, the U.S. government is a major enabler to the obesity problem. While we’re not debating the necessity of food stamps, they do provide incremental spending power, and the fact that lower-income people are more likely to be obese means that the government has a profound responsibility to ramp up nutritional education and hone in on the obesity problem. With +20% of households using food stamps, keep in mind that any policy shift will be significant for a wide swath of companies from supermarkets to producers of food.

So far government efforts have been mostly ineffective “nudges.” Policies enacted in the past few years that mandate calorie labeling in fast-food and chain restaurants have thus far had no impact on calorie consumption, according to a recently-published study (link below). While relying on people to use nutritional information to make healthier meal choices wasn’t effective, giving customers at a fast-food restaurant the option of downsizing their dishes did in fact work. About a third of customers opted for the smaller portion (versus less than 1% who asked to downsize on their own) and subsequently ate less. And accepting the downsized option had no effect on the amount of food uneaten at the end of the meal, translating into even more calorie savings. People in the study generally didn’t have the self-control to make smarter nutritional choices on their own, but it seems that some sense of self-control was activated when they were pushed to make healthier decisions.

With proof that intervention can in fact work, the Federal government has a role to play, whether it likes it or not. When you’re handing over money for food to 1 in 5 households and when about a third of all children are in notoriously non-nutritious subsidized school lunch programs, there’s certainly a moral responsibility.

Obesity is essentially the “Smoking” of the 21st century. And just as smoking rates were lessened thanks to government intervention, the obesity problem will need governmental action as well. Yes, it’s been written about countless times and there aren’t any immediate investment implications, but this topic is worth having in the back of your mind. The answers here are not as obvious as cigarette smoking; no one is going to back higher food taxes to reduce consumption. But the problem is significant and costly to the U.S. economy.

Link to study on effectiveness of calorie-labeling:

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stocktivity's picture

Sure they are....instead of taking a long walk, people sit in front of these stupid things.

CheapBastard's picture

99% of them look fat to me.....oops, I'm sorry, I mean look "athletic."

GetZeeGold's picture




Broke.......but well fed.


tgatliff's picture

So if you are THE 75%, then doesnt that also make you a fat cat?


Sudden Debt's picture

Big boned.... and it runs in the family gene pool so not their fold....

battle axe's picture

Give me my Purina Cat Chow BITCHZ!!!

bigdumbnugly's picture

well. at least that can't be blamed on gold since you can't eat it.

Zero Govt's picture

how about Super-Slim the health Dept

there's a Govt virus intefering in everything epidemic

Kobe Beef's picture

Sure, with SNAP/EBT/Skool lunches providing "free" food to people with low impulse control, what did you expect?

Also, with Medicaid providing "free" health care to the same people, where is the incentive to be healthy?

I agree with you entirely. Most of our society's decline can be traced directly to an overactive federal government providing "free" stuff and distorting incentives towards irresponsible behavior.

Washington DC is cancer.

TBT or not TBT's picture

Indeed, carbs are addictive.   Concentrated sources of carbs were not available to humans for millions of years, but they did provide quick energy when available, such as when ripe fruit could be found, seasonally.

Momauguin Joe's picture

On a long enough timeline, even Dick Cheney will kick the bucket. That fucking goul can't dies soon enough. Sieze up heart! Sieze up!

GetZeeGold's picture



You can almost feel the luv here.


Clueless Economist's picture

Joe, keep your man love to yourself.

Doc's picture

Clearly the 99% are starving. The solution is to tax the 1% more.

Momauguin Joe's picture

What unfortunate had his heart harvested by the Matrix? Reject the system. Reject the transplant.  

earnyermoney's picture

That was the objective of that Staff Sgt. Had to keep killing Afghans till he found a donor match for Dick.

narapoiddyslexia's picture

When I read the Cheney had a heart transplant, my first thought was, "Who'd he have killed?" Thanks for the info.

TheGardener's picture

The object you referred to had his PUMP replaced, easy one
if the patient had no heart to speak of in the first place.

homer8043's picture

I'm not familiiar with the waiting list procedures but there weren't any 30-40 year olds waiting that would have a better prognosis with a heart transplant?

i-dog's picture

He probably personally ripped it out of some teenage MK Ultra slave during a candlelight ceremony on the Spring Equinox.

LongSoupLine's picture



Why do they keep saying Cheney had a "transplant"?  Don't you have to have a heart in the first place in order for it to be a transplant?

Sudden Debt's picture

he has a heart.... it just runs on blue blood.


Alcoholic Native American's picture

The heart owner must be spinning in his grave right about now.  That must suck.  

Kaiser Sousa's picture

"even Dick Cheney will kick the bucket. That fucking goul can't dies soon enough. Sieze up heart! Sieze up!"

Hard to believe there r some sick fucks that would actually red arrow u on that note here at Zero...truly disappointing...

Dr. Engali's picture

Maybe they are red arrowing because they find wishing death on another person tasteless (and no that isn't a pun on the current food disgussion).

Kobe Beef's picture

In the immortal words of Jane's Addiction: "some people should die."

Kaiser Sousa's picture

My bad...
I forgot that sociopaths r people tasteless....

All Rise's picture

Bullish for food stocks, restaurants, and healthcare.

akuacumen's picture

FedEx and everything home delivery related. Doubt these people will be getting out of the house more.

The Axe's picture

They must all be at a  BWLD!!!!

GeneMarchbanks's picture

Not if hyperinflation has anything to say about it.

All Rise's picture

These people have already been hyperinflated on Maccy D's!

Silver Dreamer's picture

Will the fat be the first or last to die?  My money is on the first.  They are the least prepared for a collapse because of poor health choices.

francis_sawyer's picture

They're trying to prep you for when your SNAP card doesn't buy as much food...

DON'T EAT FOOD! It makes you FAT!

AssFire's picture

I watch 20,000 gallon railcars being sent here for refining and then think about Buffett's investment in the railroads and Obama's resisting the pipeline.. Bullshit,.. all crony bullshit. Get fat, believe the media (stay stupid) and die; That is the reality of this once great nation.

Moneyswirth's picture

Girth is a sign of a prosperous economy and abundant sustenance....


Agent P's picture

In that case, my penis is leading the recovery.

the not so mighty maximiza's picture

Its sitting in front of screens for over a decade I am a porker now.  I am sure the unemployed sit at home in front of screens playing PS3 and stuff.   I thing we are fattning up for the food shortages to come.  

Stuck on Zero's picture

The unemployed sit at home watching Oprah and TV commercials for Burger King while eating delivered pizza.

Silver Dreamer's picture

It's not what we are doing or not.  The whole exercise thing is bullshit.  It's instead what we are eating.  Cut out the processed foods and simple carbs (table sugar, its substitutes, and processed flour), and then you can sit there playing PS3 all day long while stuffing your face with real food.  You'll lose weight without any effort at all then.  You drink one Mt. Dew, and it would take you 40 minutes on a treadmill to burn it off.  The exercise thing is crap.  Don't let the marketing fool you.  Eat well and body weight is not an issue.  There's no money to be made by that truth however, so that's why you do not hear it usually.

Gully Foyle's picture

Silver Dreamer


Nutrition Professor Loses Weight on Junk-Food Diet

It's been dubbed "the Twinkie diet" by the media: Mark Haub, a professor in Kansas State University's Department of Human Nutrition, has been surviving on junk food for the past month.

And, he's lost weight.

This might seem to fly in the face of conventional nutritional wisdom. After all, junk food results in weight gain, right?

Haub started the "Twinkie Diet" August 25. Since then, he's been eating mostly swiss cake rolls, blueberry muffins, cinnamon rolls, peanut butter Oreos, and hot dogs.

As well as the junk food, Haub has milk (for protein), and vegetables (for vitamins) with dinner.

By sticking to 1,800 calories a day - around 600-800 fewer than he'd need to maintain weight - Haub lost 10lbs in the first three weeks of his "diet."

His premise: That in weight loss, pure calorie counting is what matters most -- not the nutritional value of the food.

The premise held up: On his "convenience store diet," he shed 27 pounds in two months.

For a class project, Haub limited himself to less than 1,800 calories a day. A man of Haub's pre-dieting size usually consumes about 2,600 calories daily. So he followed a basic principle of weight loss: He consumed significantly fewer calories than he burned.

His body mass index went from 28.8, considered overweight, to 24.9, which is normal. He now weighs 174 pounds.

But you might expect other indicators of health would have suffered. Not so.

Haub's "bad" cholesterol, or LDL, dropped 20 percent and his "good" cholesterol, or HDL, increased by 20 percent. He reduced the level of triglycerides, which are a form of fat, by 39 percent.

"That's where the head scratching comes," Haub said. "What does that mean? Does that mean I'm healthier? Or does it mean how we define health from a biology standpoint, that we're missing something?"

Al Huxley's picture

Yes, well its obvious, you have to have a certain amount of excess calories to gain wait.  There's no mystery, it's tough to eat 3000 calories worth of carrots, apples and spinach, and it's really easy to slide 3000 calories worth of melted cheese, mayonaise, bacon and coke down your throat.  No need for further head scratching.