Last week it was announced by the Center for Disease Control that obesity rates for toddlers had plummeted by 43% in a decade, and while the obesity epidemic is still a serious, serious problem, the scale of which was starkly outlined in an Economist Special Report last year, it appears that we may have turned a symbolic corner in a fight against the disease.
My own opinion is that we are at the beginning of a major shift among developed economies towards a healthier future. The generation of edible abundance in which we have grown up has been the antithesis of millennia of scarcity and malnutrition; today, I believe we are entering a synthesis in which a wealthy population lives a balanced and healthy lifestyle.
My biggest reflection on this story is the combined power of a functioning government and effective market to bring about societal change. Without a powerful, united voice from the government to increase the awareness of the issue, the market may have continued its course unabated; without an efficient market to capitalize and take advantage of the opportunities presented by this increased population awareness, the government’s warnings would have gone unheeded.
In the case of obesity, the science and facts were indisputable, allowing the Government to be united in its call for a healthier society. Michelle Obama has been one of the most vocal proponents of healthy lifestyles for children. Mayor Bloomberg mandated that restaurant chains prominently display the calories in each meal. At the same time, companies as varied as Coca-Cola, Nike and Whole Foods have spent years capitalizing on the fact that Americans are demanding healthier options, and easier ways to track their health. Healthy food chains such as Panera Bread and Pret A Manger have sprouted up around the country, just as Burger King and KFC has declined in popularity.
The takeaway is clear: when addressing a societal problem, a unified and cohesive state is required to increase the information associated with that problem and lay down a vision, and the market is required to find the most efficient way to realize that vision.
This approach is being taken today when looking at space privatization and increasing vehicle fuel efficiency to amazing results.
If a unified government could take the same approach in relation to Global Warming or poverty eradication, we may be able to turn the corner on those problems as well.
Much easier said than done, however!
Until next time!