Is Obesity The New Smoking? It Certainly Is In the U.S.

In the 1960s, 42 percent of Americans smoked. Ubiquitous cigarette ads, eventually banned in the US, promised that smoking made men more masculine and women sexier and thinner. Plus cigarettes tasted good.

Now, in 2021, only 14 percent of the US population smokes but 42 percent of the population is obese. Have people just switched rooms on the Titanic? Is obesity the new smoking?

Sure, the declining number of smokers risked cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). But today’s obese people risk type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high LDL, coronary heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea and many cancers. An improvement?

The Young Now Suffer From Obesity

Obesity is not just seen in older people. Millennials are on board to become the heaviest generation in history with a growing and disturbing incidence of obesity-related cancers according to medical journals. Multiple myeloma, colorectal, uterine corpus, gallbladder, kidney, and pancreatic cancer incidence are just some of the cancers now seen in young, obese people.

Almost a third of young people between 17 and 24 are disqualified from U.S. military service because of obesity says the CDC, an underreported fact.

is obesity the new smoking? Image by cocoparisienne from Pixabay
Is obesity the new smoking? Image by cocoparisienne from Pixabay

It Is the Doctor’s Business

If you went to a doctor with a smoker’s cough, and tobacco-related hypertension and rapid heart rate he or she would not ignore your smoking regardless of what brought you into the office. But if you went to a doctor with telltale obesity symptoms like hypertension and obesity hypoventilation syndrome, in today’s everyone’s-a-victim culture, the doctor would be “fat shaming” you if he or she mentioned your weight. It is none of the doctor’s business say an increasing number of “woke” medical sources on behalf of obese people.

There is also outrage from obese people in social media postings when doctors have dared to mention their weight when they were in the office for … a sore throat or toe. The nerve! Patients may want to pretend weight and overall health are not connected but there is no such thing as “I am fat but fit” anymore than “I smoke but am fit” is valid.

Still, it is now said that anti-weight stigma and “bias” from doctors leads obese patients to avoid doctors and eat more. The same could be said of doctors’ anti-tobacco bias effect on smokers who no doubt light up as soon as they leave the office after being admonished. But should a doctor not do his or her job to save a patient’s “feelings”?

But Doctor, I Am Hooked!

The words are no doubt uttered more by smokers than the obese but in both cases they are true. A few decades ago, cigarettes ads and vending machines were everywhere. Now ads for fattening, junk food and their vending machines are everywhere – in banks, hardware stores, bookstores and transit stations. In both cases the marketing has produced oral addictions that people have to give in to and “feed” every few hours. In both cases, people experience acute withdrawal symptoms from their addictions when they want to stop – and anger at those who point out their addiction. Including doctors.

The tremendous girth of today’s lumbering obese sector shows that marketing works. But if quitting an addiction were not possible, there would be no ex smokers or formerly obese people. They are not “victims.” As a Chicago radio talk personality used to say, “Who made you walk over the refrigerator and eat a cake?”

sugary food and obesity. image by photosforyou from pixabay
Sugary food and obesity. Image by photosforyou from Pixabay

“It’s No One’s Business But Mine”

Many people cite their overeating and decision to be obese as a personal choice that affects no one else and is no one else’s business – not the doctor’s or society’s. They are wrong. Whether someone smokes, is obese or rides a motorcycle without a helmet, they are wasting precious medical care resources that could go to people who did not practice self-neglect.

They raise everyone’s health care costs. According to the CDC, obesity-related medical costs the U.S. $147 billion a year.

Excessive eating of sweet processed food carries as much risk of disease as tobacco, if not more, according to research reports. It also hits more people because although very few young children smoked, now childhood obesity is widespread, scientists say, and the poor health outcomes are already evident.

The evidence shows that excessive weight gain has a huge impact on every level of society, much more than cancer risk. And obesity rates show no sign of slowing anytime soon, going in the opposite direction to smoking rates.

Forty-two percent of Americans once smoked and now 42 percent are obese. Are we better off?

Martha Rosenberg is the Investigative Health Correspondent for NewsBlaze. Martha illustrates many of her stories with relevant cartoons. She was staff cartoonist at Evanston Roundtable.