This New Data Shows We're on the Wrong Path to Treating Obesity

Whether you realize it, obesity, which was officially classified as a disease earlier this year by the American Medical Association, is a complex problem that's threatening the health and well-being of a significant portion of this country.

According to the American Medical Association, 35.7% of U.S. adults are considered obese, with roughly two-thirds of adults considered overweight or obese. You might be under the impression that obesity is just a personal problem that has no bearing on you or your family, but I'd contend that you'd be wrong.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Obesity-related health problems cost an additional $190 billion each year because of the complications that arise from being overweight. Compared to a person of average weight, obese patients' medical costs averaged out to be 50% higher. Higher medical costs mean higher health insurance premiums for everyone, as well as a stressed medical system that may soon not have enough doctors to treat patients in need of care.

We're going the wrong way
In response to this growing need to stem obesity trends, the CDC has done its best to boost educational awareness of the disease, most restaurants and grocery stores have boosted the number of healthier food offerings they carry, and First Lady Michelle Obama even launched an initiative known as "Let's Move" to teach children about healthier eating habits and keep them exercising.

We would like to think these initiatives are working, but according to the latest poll from Gallup they aren't.

Since the beginning of the year, Gallup has interviewed some 150,600 people across the U.S. (a relatively strong sample) and asked them whether they "ate healthfully all day yesterday." Gallup has conducted this poll each month since January 2008, and within the past year we've seen a dramatic decline in healthier eating habits as you can see below: 

Source: Gallup.

Why are we eating so poorly?
In each and every month this year, we've seen a statistically lower number of respondents admitting to eating healthy during the day compared to 2012. The way I see it, there are a number of reasons we could be seeing this trend of unhealthier eating habits taking hold.

First, the rollback of the payroll tax holiday as of Dec. 31, 2012, means that all taxpayers are now ponying up an additional 2% of their income toward taxes each paycheck. Less disposable income means a potentially smaller food and grocery budget, which can result in a smaller selection of food and poor eating habits.

On a similar accord, the passing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which you may recognize better as Obamacare, could be another factor reducing disposable income. The actionable part of the PPACA, known as the individual mandate, requires Americans to purchase health insurance starting Jan. 1 or face a penalty. This extra monthly allowance to pay for health insurance for those currently going without is another factor that could affect food budgets, and thus healthy eating habits.

Finally, I believe socioeconomic factors in general, including the potential for job advancement and wage growth, are also playing a role in deteriorating healthy eating habits. While we've witnessed the unemployment rate sink and weekly jobless claims drop on a somewhat regular basis, a significant number of jobs created this year have been part-time in nature. Part-time job creation is a start, don't get me wrong; but it's not going to allow most workers the ability to set aside enough money for more nutritious foods.

The end of result of the above factors is that we're turning toward high sodium and calorie but low nutritional content fast-food because of the perception that it's cheaper.

How this changes
There are really three factors that need to come together if we're going to battle the bulge and be successful.

The first factor is really up to each individual. An effort has to be made to exercise regularly; cut down on foods high in fat content, sodium, and cholesterol; and do those other intangibles that comprise healthy living. I'm in no way suggesting that diet and exercise is the end-all, cure-all for obesity as genetic makeup, medications being taken, socioeconomic status, and a number of other factors can influence a person's weight -- but it's a solid start.

The second factor needed to curb obesity is a conscientious move by fast-food and casual restaurants away from foods high in calorie content and toward more nutritious food products. We not only need these restaurants to offer a more balanced menu, but we need them offer these items at a comparable price point to currently popular belt-busting meals.

One company doing an exemplary job of this is Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE: CMG  ) , whose Food With Integrity pledge is helping to revolutionize the casual dining industry. Chipotle has made deals with local farmers to supply fresh fruits and vegetables where possible while also using meats which are antibiotic and hormone-free. Although this can actually lead to slightly higher expenses, Chipotle has done a good job showing restraint in raising its prices. Instead, it's able to offer a comparably priced meal to what you'd find at numerous fast-food chains with considerably more nutritional value.

Another company worthy of a pat on the back is Panera Bread (NASDAQ: PNRA  ) , which offers the convenience of drive-thru in some of its locations while also offering its patrons a variety of soups, salads, sandwiches, and pastas that are divvied out in reasonable calorie-based serving portions. Like Chipotle, Panera's products are priced comparably to that of fast-food restaurants, which should hopefully improve consumer awareness that healthier foods can often be had on a relatively tight budget. If anything, it's certainly improved Panera's customer traffic!

The final factor, when all else fails, is to allow weight control management medications to step in as an adjuvant therapy to diet and exercise.

Last year, we witnessed the approval of two new anti-obesity medications for the first time in more than a decade: Qsymia by VIVUS (NASDAQ: VVUS  ) and Belviq by Arena Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ARNA  ) . Neither drug has really impressed Wall Street since their launch, but it's still early, and some insurers have yet to latch onto covering these new drugs. In late-stage clinical trials, VIVUS' Qsymia offered the greater potential weight-loss of the two drugs, however Belviq delivered the more favorable safety profile of the two. A further differentiating factor is that VIVUS is marketing Qsymia entirely on its own while Arena partnered with global pharmaceutical giant Eisai to handle its marketing.

Both Qsymia and Belviq, though, may wind up taking a backseat to Orexigen Therapeutics' (NASDAQ: OREX  ) Contrave. Orexigen actually brought Contrave before the Food and Drug Administration in 2011 and was rejected due to cardiovascular safety concerns. Having now completed a 9,800 patient safety study, known as the Light Study, demonstrating that Contrave didn't increase heart attack risk or offer any additional side effects, Contrave could have a clear path for both a U.S. and an EU approval. That would certainly give Orexigen an edge in Europe since Qsymia (known in the EU as Qsiva) was denied approval and Belviq pulled its marketing authorization application after it was staring down a similar fate due to safety concerns.

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Read/Post Comments (15) | Recommend This Article (4)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 02, 2013, at 2:16 PM, marp11 wrote:

    belviq scrips doubling every 6 weeks now

    contrave 2 generics already on the market

    orex broke

    vvus laughable

    ARNA $50 IN 2014 AND EASILY

  • Report this Comment On December 02, 2013, at 2:18 PM, marp11 wrote:

    the more MF SA bashing I see of ARNA

    the more sure I am its going to 50

  • Report this Comment On December 02, 2013, at 2:21 PM, gazoo99 wrote:

    The ONLY weight loss drug that's going places anytime in the future is the NEW & NOVEL drug.....

    BELVIQ............................ by ARNA

    The other 2 are nothing but rehashes of old drugs available genericly at fractions of the cost OREX and VVUS are trying to market.

    NEW & NOVEL........ That's the future!

  • Report this Comment On December 02, 2013, at 2:43 PM, BioThinker wrote:

    FYI, the LIGHT study isn't over, they just did an interim analysis that showed that Contrave didn't more than double CV risk; final data in 2017. Still, they are ahead on that front vs. ARNA and VVUS and can get the EU nod much sooner.

    Belviq isn't potent enough and will need a study in combo with another agent to do enough to really excite people. Not sure why they aren't doing that now - fear of AEs?? And the Qsymia titration schedule is just too complicated, along with well know generic woes and AEs.

    The real question will be marketing strength and prowess.....which remain to be seen. Eisai has never impressed in the US and the big guys seem to be avoiding VVUS.

    OREX needs a solid US and Ex-US regional partners with a good track record if they are going to exploit the market.

  • Report this Comment On December 02, 2013, at 3:10 PM, AreaRich wrote:

    Seems to me that most fools invested in OREX before the recent dilution, and shorted ARNA. And we are suppose to listen to you guys... why?

  • Report this Comment On December 02, 2013, at 4:59 PM, rst1231 wrote:

    Forget everything in this article and go into your local school and observe lunch time. People do what has become habit for them and we have trained our country to woof down their salty/sugary tasteless/indecipherable slop in 10 minutes or less. If you want to change our habits you need to change them where they start. It's not in the home, it's in the schools. We've been trained to not sit down, eat, and relax anymore so we've limited our food options. It's an endless cycle that we're not actually addressing.

  • Report this Comment On December 02, 2013, at 5:03 PM, lynnette wrote:

    When you wake up and realize that the industrialization of food creates their products to be addictive you might get as mad as I am that you spurn their products out of buyer beware and you better watch out for your lovely products.

    I eat Paleo now and avoid industrialization at all costs. They make it virtually impossible but it's worth it to have my health back.

    Between my garden, clean seed supplies, and my hunter friends I avoid everything government and business has done to make me sick.

    You can do it too. Just remember MD's, government, food industry, health insurance, and health care all want your money.

    What you choose to put in your mouth is your power!

  • Report this Comment On December 02, 2013, at 5:13 PM, bobette9133 wrote:

    I ate really healthy food until Obama came in office. Since then, my 40 hour a week job (in which I worked 55 hours a week) was reduced to 27 hours a week. In order to pay rent, food, electricity, car and ins I had to get another job for 27 hours a week and I still can't afford food. I eat what I can grab fast, because one job ends at 3pm and the other one starts at 4pm and it takes me 45 minutes to drive there. Since Obama, I also have to pay much much more for gasoline. Now I am facing evection, because there's not enough money. I'm lucky to grab a burger for .99 cents, I carry a water bottle in my car, because I can't even afford a $1.00 coke or fries. He has dishonored us and our country. Don't talk about obesity. Lets talk about the rise in taxes, the lack of jobs and lies that go on daily. And the press still try to make him sound great. Where will your grandchildren want to live in the future. Not this country. Only the takers want to live here.

  • Report this Comment On December 02, 2013, at 5:48 PM, aldehyde wrote:

    seen willams the arna [short assassin] got it all wrong.

  • Report this Comment On December 02, 2013, at 9:30 PM, DevonShire123 wrote:

    "Oh gosh, why is everybody so fat?" DUUUUH. GMO food is devoid of nutrients, so when you eat it, you remain hungry. The chemicals in GMO help you retain fat, in addition to all the cancer and sterilization. And IT'S ALL DELIBERATE. These propagandists pretending to be journalists act like nobody can figure out the problem. The truth is, the problem is known--it was created by the Establishment to thin out the numbers of 'useless eaters.'

  • Report this Comment On December 02, 2013, at 10:57 PM, mandlerparr wrote:

    I would guess that a whole lot of people are depressed right now. This leads to overeating. Add to that the fact that people want to take their family out on a Friday night, but a movie costs $10 a person, a museum costs $7 a person, and other venues can cost $30 or more a person while fast food only costs $3-4 a person. Does not take a genius to figure out what people are going to choose as the purse strings pull tighter. Nobody can afford a gym membership, not that many gyms are set up for the obese anyway. Then you have the fat-shamers, who seem to get more upset and insulting when they see someone exercising and eating right. But I think the biggest thing is depression. I think more people just don't care enough. Not that they are bad people, because I am one of them. I don't eat a lot. Bull you will say, but I don't. No, I drink my calories. I bet I drink twice as many calories as I eat. Every day I get up and tell myself not to, and every day I fail. Even when I don't go buy it, someone else does. I quit smoking cold turkey, so I know I have willpower. Even right now writing this, I want to drink this addictive sugary, caffeinated mess. I am not the only one out there, either.

  • Report this Comment On December 03, 2013, at 4:57 AM, demeurj wrote:

    1) Payroll tax holiday expired because GOP didn't want to extend it.

    2) How could Obamacare premiums be responsible for lowering incomes BEFORE people pay them?

    3) There's actually a demographic bulge of people seeking part-time employment.

    4) Although many more people are involuntarily part-time, the primary reason isn't Obamacare. It's the fact that employers and stockholders prefer their own personal enrichment over the well-being of employees . . . who are quite expendable.

    5) Jobs that are more likely to full-time (government employment such as teachers and other public service) have been cut significantly since the recession started.

    6) I'm an obesity researcher. The only novel drug mentioned (locaserin) doesn't work well at all. The other options are re-tasking of old medications that have modest weight loss effects at best and VERY real side effects.

    7) One of the best candidates in the past two decades (rimonabant) never made it to the states and failed in the EU because any drug that's REALLY good at getting a person to not eat something they want . . . is tinkering with some of the most primal/integral brain pathways. That will never turn out well.

  • Report this Comment On December 03, 2013, at 10:11 AM, Kirakait wrote:

    This information is not new. As Americans, we like numbers and percentages. "Top 3 ways to lose weight"....when in fact, a person's weight is a personal matter with many factors involved. To lump solutions into 3 categories for all people is a tad bit reductionist (*sarcasm* intended). One cause rarely, if ever, brought to people's attention, is parasites and/or pathogens. Of course there are numerous other causes, but people don't want to figure it out for themselves. Never take a person's word or a doctor's opinion as absolute fact. Always research the matter yourself, you might be surprised at what you find.

  • Report this Comment On December 03, 2013, at 11:46 AM, azfool wrote:

    Does obesity cause insulin resistance, or does insulin resistance cause obesity? We need to consider the possibility that the conventional wisdom of the last generation regarding diet may be incorrect. Reduction in fat has resulted in an increase in sugars and a sharp rise in diabetes. And not all calories are equal. Some calories make us want to have more calories.

  • Report this Comment On December 04, 2013, at 9:52 AM, stephenf wrote:

    Or, since this is based on self-report, maybe the inclination to report truthfully changed between this year and last.

    Not saying there's not an obesity problem. Of course there is. I'm talking about overreading the significance of a change in a self-reported phenomenon.

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