Gen X overtaking baby boomers on obesity – in Oz – and probably here, as well

New research from the University of Adelaide shows that Generation X is already on the path to becoming more obese than their baby boomer predecessors.

Studies show that boomers currently have the highest level of obesity of any age group in Australia. However, new research by University of Adelaide PhD student Rhiannon Pilkington has revealed some alarming statistics. As part of her research, she has compared obesity levels between the two generations at equivalent ages.

Using data from the National Health Survey, Ms Pilkington compared Generation X in 2008 to boomers at the same age, in 1989…

At the same age, Gen X males have nearly double the prevalence of obesity: 18.3% compared with 9.4% for boomers. There is a smaller but still significant difference in females, with 12.7% of Gen X women being obese in 2008 and 10.4% of boomer females obese in 1989.

“This does not bode well for the future health of Generation X,” she says…

“Boomers and Gen X together make up more than 75% of Australia’s workforce. Their health and the role of the workplace in promoting a healthy, or unhealthy, environment is of critical importance to the Australian economy, to society and to people’s quality of life,” Ms Pilkington says.

“Obesity has become the new smoking – it’s a major driver of ill health, with coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes highest on the list of preventable illnesses. Obesity also costs billions of dollars to our economy each year. Anything we can do to mitigate the damage being done to both generations of Australians by obesity will be hugely important for the future of our nation.”

Happens to be something I’ve been reflecting on, lately – especially with the advent of the Advantage programs added to Medicare by Obama. Though I’ve been an advocate of healthy exercise and nutrition for years, I took kind of a late start at reforming my own lifestyle after years of living on the road, so to speak. I certainly didn’t avail myself of the minimal health checkups I had access to.

Now, part of the new programmatic approach to a longer healthier life is access to testing, exams, exercise programs as good as anything I ever devised – and nutritional counseling. Though everything worked out by my honey and me is sufficient, I have to admit the prompting keeps me conscious of working a bit more at growing a longer, healthier life.

I like it.

The first century of the war on drugs

The first international drug treaty was signed a century ago this week. So what was the war on drugs like in 1912?

Today it is taken for granted that governments will co-operate in the fight against the heroin and cocaine trade. But 100 years ago, narcotics passed from country to country with minimal interference from the authorities. That all changed with the 1912 International Opium Convention, which committed countries to stopping the trade in opium, morphine and cocaine.

Then, as now, the US stood in the vanguard against narcotics. While the UK’s position is unequivocal today, a century ago it was an unenthusiastic signatory, says Mike Jay, author of Emperors of Dreams: Drugs in the Nineteenth Century.

The real concern a century ago was over alcohol, he argues. “There was a big debate over intoxication as there was concern about the heavy, heavy drinking culture of the 19th Century…”

And opium use was viewed in the mid-19th Century in a very different way from modern beliefs about drug use. It was possible to walk into a chemist and buy not only opium and cocaine, but even arsenic…

“There were opium dens where one could buy oblivion, dens of horror where the memory of old sins could be destroyed by the madness of sins that were new,” wrote Oscar Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray.

But the fashion in drugs was changing from the “downer” of opium to the “upper” of cocaine – hence Arthur Conan Doyle making Sherlock Holmes a cocaine injector…

But in the US, cocaine came to be associated with street gangs, alongside racist propaganda that the drug sent black men insane and put white women at risk…So these domestic concerns helped drive the international agreement in the form of the 1912 treaty. But while it tackled the trade, in the UK at least, the authorities were slow to crack down on individual users…

In reality, there was no “drug scene” in Britain back then, says Jay. What existed was confined to a few streets in Soho and a handful of dealers in Limehouse. And once the drug laws came in banning cocaine and opium, the problem was easily contained by the police…

The baby boomers were the first generation in history to become real global consumers. People were suddenly going to Morocco to smoke hash, or hitching with lorry drivers who were using amphetamines.”

So the floodgates opened. Where once the authorities were fighting relatively small groups of offenders in a tiny drugs subculture, now they must fight millions of users and powerful international cartels.

RTFA for an understanding of laws and “wars” on drugs in the time when the community of users was small, coppers ruled the streets – instead of gangbangers – and profit hadn’t yet driven drugs into a global economy.

Not that today’s governments seem to be any more capable of understanding changing circumstances.