Tobacco Usage and Rising Obesity: An Imperative to Improve

By Elle Alexander

Tobacco usage and obesity are two major risk factors associated with chronic diseases and preventable deaths. According to the CDC, in the United States there are currently 43.8 million smokers and an estimated 440,000 smoking related deaths every year. Obesity levels are also on the rise – national health statistics show prevalence among adults at 35.6% in 2010 (compared to an average of 13% in 1960).

An article in the October issue of Health Affairs by Padya et al. forecasts that in the US, progress made in the increased rates of cardiovascular disease treatment combined with the reduction in smoking will be overshadowed by the impact of the aging population and a higher incidence of obesity and diabetes. The consequences will be an overall increase in healthcare costs and disability for lower quality of life.

Supporting these predictions, a study by Sturm et al. published in this month’s edition of the South African Medical Journal (SAMJ) found that obesity and tobacco use increase healthcare expenditure, based on real health survey and medical claims data from 2010.

As commented by Gaziano, co-author of the Padya et al. study: “These two articles confirm that despite improvements in prevention and the care of patients with chronic conditions, there are still great opportunities to further reduce the disease burden from chronic diseases and their related costs. In particular cost-effective efforts to reduce obesity or at a minimum prevent any further increases could have profound positive impact on the quality of life of millions worldwide and reduce costs of care simultaneously.”

Furthermore, a related study by Reddy et al. warns us about overall reduced smoking rates that can hide a recent increase of smoking among youth as seen in South Africa – a situation similar to what can be observed in the US according to the CDC Youth Risks Behavior survey. This relates to the Editorial co-authored by Vitality Institute Executive Director, Derek Yach, and David Sweanor of the University of Ottawa outlining the potential for e-cigarettes, a needed complement to accepted policies in place and which may be the next big opportunity to make progress on curbing smoking rates in spite of potential drawbacks.

Derek Yach, Executive Director of the Vitality Institute, summarizes what this all means in under 4min on YouTube.

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