Mardi Gras. Fat Tuesday. That annual tradition of gluttony before the season of austerity that is Lent. At least, that’s how it goes if you actually observe Lent, which not everybody does. But everybody observes Fat Tuesday, because it is a cheap excuse for epople to justify eating too much, drinking too much and watching every restaurant and saloon in town put up tacky purple, yellow and green decorations for the evening and pretend like everywhere is New Orleans. I have been to New Orleans, and to Bourbon Street. And while it’s the kind of place everybody should see at least once, it is also the kind of place that you really don’t want the rest of the world to resemble. Anybody who has lost memory there will know what I’m talking about.
The Fat Tuesday celebration has become a bit like Cinco de Mayo – another tradition that is observed more as a hollow excuse to eat and drink than to actually observe the real tradition at hand. I am reminded of when I used to work for the Risk and Insurance Management Society. One year, our annual conference was to be held in New Orleans, and for what seemed like months leading up to Fat Tuesday, we had one king cake after another in the kitchen, sent by grateful New Orleans merchants and planning boards. By the time Fat Tuesday rolled around, we had all eaten so much king cake, that nobody really felt the need to have a culturally sanctioned day of gluttony. But darned if the king cake didn’t get scarfed down anyway. The reality is, wherever we work, wherever we live, whatever we do, in this country, every day is Fat Tuesday.
There are those who will pish-posh this notion, either because they see no harm in it or because life is worth living, right? Indeed it is, but there is a price to pay for all of that rich living, and it is our ongoing obesity problem. I know what you’re thinking: Obesity again, Bill? Are you really going off about this again?
As long as the health insurance industry continues to bemoan the cost of healthcare, and as long as we endure the increased healthcare costs of obesity itself, this is an issue that really should not be overlooked. It is to modern Americans what smoking was a few decades ago, and the sooner the health insurance industry takes really strong action (as Cigna has done, for example) to modify the eating and drinking behavior of its policyholders, the sooner we can start to get a handle on a problem that is killing many of us a bite at a time.
To that end, allow me to turn my attention to one of the great fringe bennies of subscribing to the Economist: their annual World in Figures book. It is an annual a compilation of all kinds of statistics they send to subscribers, and to a factoid hound like myself, might as well come wrapped in a red bow. One of the things they track is obesity rate, as defined by metric body mass index – weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared. An index of 30.0 or more is considered obese. A rating of 25.0 – 29.9 is considered overweight. This can be adjusted for age and gender.
So, what are the most obese nations on the Earth? Let’s turn the page and find out.