Obesity and Longevity

The Lancet has issued two new interesting and timely paper Series´ during the past week: one examining the global obesity pandemic, and the other celebrating 50 years of universal health care in Japan.

With a particular focus on the US and the UK, the obesity Series made headlines by forecasting that unless significant public health measures were adopted, 60% of men and 50% of women in the UK could be clinically obese by 2050. The Series consists of four new research papers by academics in the UK, US and Australia that look at the causes of obesity, its origins and potential trajectory, societal implications, and the cross-cutting measures that are needed to tackle this complex and ´wicked´ problem. The authors call for strong international leadership from the UN and its agencies at the High Level Meeting on non-communicable diseases in New York later this month as vital in stimulating other agencies and states to take action to tackle this growing pandemic.

Over the last 50 years, Japan has become a world leader in a number of health metrics, including, for the last 30 years, having the highest life expectancy in the world: a baby girl born in Japan today can expect to live till 86 and a boy to almost 80. The Lancet articles explore some of the reasons for this, not just the Japanese diet, but hygienic practices and health conscious behaviour involving mass screening and regular check-ups. Government initiatives – equality measures and key public health policies – are also responsible for this achievement. Of course such success precipitates challenges too: 23% of Japan´s population are now aged over 65 and while this population can be regarded as representing a model of healthy ageing, there are the concomitant medical and social implications common to other developed countries with ageing populations that need to be discussed and addressed for the future wellbeing of Japanese society.

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