This Week's Herman Trend Alert

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  The Herman Trend Alert

March 24, 2010

Global Health Trends

The recently released annual Harris Poll that measures key health risks---smoking, weight, and obesity---offers mixed reviews for the health of the United States' population. The good news is the proportion of adults who smoke cigarettes declined in every five year period. However, at the same time the total number did not significantly decrease from 2005.

From other sources, we find smoking declining in most places around the globe. In part, these declines are due to bans that have made smoking less convenient and more expensive. Countries banning smoking include the US, Canada, many of the European countries, and even South Africa. Brazil and Argentina lead the way for South America. The big surprises are Japan and China, where rates are relatively high (over one-third).

Despite these bans, rates in some countries remain stubbornly high: According to The World Health Organization over 70 percent of Russian Federation men smoke. China is a close second at 59.5 percent, and Turkey is third with 51.6. "Male smoking rates have now peaked, and trends in low-and middle-resource countries indicate slow but sure declines." The problem is the trend is extremely slow and meanwhile, millions die every year from direct or indirect effects of smoke; in fact 13 percent of all worldwide deaths are smoking-related.

The really bad news is that US obesity rates continue to rise, having increased for every five year period since Harris started measuring the trend. The proportion of adults who are obese has not changed significantly since 2006.

Globally, there are more than 1 billion overweight adults, at least 300 million of them are obese. These numbers are increasing, due to the consumption of "more energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods with high levels of sugar and saturated fats". Combine these poor eating habits with reduced physical activity and you have a sure recipe for weight gain.

As human beings worldwide cling to their bad habits, expect these trends to continue. We have already seen intensified campaigns to address smoking (by employers) and childhood obesity (by world governments). As society discovers the real human and bottomline costs, we will see more attempts to guide people to healthier behaviors.


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