A slim view of health

The OECD sure has had it in for Canada this last month or so. Our health-care system is going to bankrupt us, unless we start paying more for it out of pocket (go figure how that works).

The OECD sure has had it in for Canada this last month or so.

Our health-care system is going to bankrupt us, unless we start paying more for it out of pocket (go figure how that works). Our post-secondary schools, although among the best in the world, are getting too expensive for students from lower income families (tell us something we don’t know). Canadian businesses aren’t innovative enough, and Canadians themselves aren’t producing enough GDP per worker to keep their employers competitive (business as usual, at least according to the Globe and Mail).

And now, they’re saying we’re fat.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development is worried that the world’s richest countries are going to eat themselves to death before the current generation of global economists can exhaust their pension funds.

The organization says Canada’s obesity levels are high compared to the average of the 32 other OECD countries, and the rates have been slowly but steadily increasing over the past 15 years.

Obesity is the new tobacco. The OECD never issued a warning like this about the economic effects of smoking (perhaps because tobacco is so lucratively taxed), but they are saying now that the lifespan of an obese person is up to eight to 10 years shorter than that of a normal-weight person — the same loss of lifespan that is incurred by smoking.

As an amusing aside, here’s a quick lesson in false science: The countries with the highest obesity rates are (in order) U.S.A., Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, United Kingdom, Canada and Ireland.

Except for Mexico, all the fattest countries have one thing in common — they are English-speaking nations. The OECD report puts six English-speaking countries in the top seven and none in the rest of the list.

How about that?

Sooner or later some wingnut is going to equate speaking English with early death due to obesity, and nobody will bother to put them into the same room as the 9/11 Truthers or the Obama-isn’t-really-American conspiracy theorists.

But what are we to make of that coincidence? Probably, nothing at all.

But behind every wingnut’s coincidence lies a small grain of reason.

The fattest country on Earth also happens to be its strongest economic and cultural force. It isn’t language that will have the U.S. facing obesity rates of 75 per cent within a decade, it’s their economic culture of cheap, highly-subsidized food, and declining participation in active lifestyles.

By that reasoning, the more the world adopts American culture (Mexico was thin, says OECD, until the country signed on to NAFTA), the fatter it will get.

Economists don’t really care what you eat but they do measure the cost of what you do.

Among the OECD’s 33 member countries, about one-half of one per cent of GDP is spent treating people who are unhealthy because they’re overweight. In the U.S., it’s a full per cent.

Years ago, the OECD was among the first to warn of the impending demographic crisis caused by the aging of the baby boomers.

Now, according to the people who spend their lives studying charts, boomers are going to reach their dotage not only with fewer taxpayers to support the economies they’ve built, but those workers won’t be healthy themselves.

And because Canada is joined at the cultural and economic hips with the U.S., we’ll be in the middle of that perfect storm.

As the bearer of bad news, you can’t beat the OECD, ensconced in its Paris enclave, eating croissants, drinking wine — and still staying thin.

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.

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