Reports of the increased obesity in the United States and its adverse effects on health outcomes are common. The AARP finds that 3 out of 10 American adults are obese (“Obesity in OECD countries“). MedPage Today reports that poor teenagers are more likely to be overweight than their non-poor peers (“…Teens from poorer families are overweight“). While I do not mean to diminish the health impact of obesity in the U.S., the fact that the poor are more ‘well-fed’–in terms of quantity but likely not quality–than the rich is remarkable. Throughout history, I can not remember a time when the poor were ‘fat’ and the rich were ‘skinny’.
It is easy to find other areas of the world where hunger and famine are commonplace among the poor. In 2003, the BBC reported on the famine in Ethiopia (“West risks new Ethiopia famine“). The Guardian tells of the Niger famine in the summer of 2005; just over a week ago the Houston Chronicle related testimony from North Korean refugees regarding the famine in their former nation; and today the Herald Sun of Melbourne reported of vast numbers going hungry in East Timor due to recent violence.
So despite the negative health impacts of obesity, those who live in OECD nations must be thankful that our rich and poor are well-fed, even if they are too well-fed. In choosing between malnutrition and obesity, the Healthcare Economist would certainly vote for the latter.