Human Limits

Exploring performance and health with Michael J. Joyner, M.D.

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Obesity and Inactivity: Lessons From The Road

A couple of posts ago I reviewed the “soda ban” in New York City and asked if it would work.  I also reviewed the data on the decline in smoking over the last 30-40 years and highlighted the factors responsible.   Another big public health success over the last 30-40 years is traffic safety.   This link is to an excellent Wiki site with the raw data on traffic fatalities starting in 1899.   Right after WWII (1945) about 10 people died per million miles driven and this has fallen to just over 1 fatality per million miles driven in 2010.    People are driving more and the population has increased over time but the effect is still pretty dramatic.


The traffic safety data was also recently reviewed in an interesting piece that tells us a lot about how regulations and behavioral changes intersect to influence public health.  So drive defensibly campaigns, safer roads, safer cars, seat belts, airbags, seat belt laws, drunken driving laws and speed limits have all made a difference.   The combined effects have also been even more impressive and things are likely to get even better with electronic collision avoidance systems and smart highways.


The need for a comprehensive approach to the twin problems obesity and inactivity was highlighted last week in an entire issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).   Here is a link to an editorial by leaders of the National Institutes of Health that appeared in JAMA on what is needed to figure out what works and what does not work.  The editorial starts by saying.


“The obesity epidemic is not the first major health crisis that the United States has faced. In recent decades, progress has been made against such daunting challenges as tobacco use, infant mortality, and HIV/AIDS. However, obesity may pose the most significant challenge yet because it involves changing approaches to 2 fundamental aspects of daily life: food consumption and physical activity. To have any chance of release from obesity’s ever-tightening grip, the nation will require broad-based efforts in every corner of society: homes, schools, community organizations, all levels of government, urban design, transportation, agriculture, the food industry, the media, medical practice, and, without question, biomedical research.”


That having been said I wonder if 30 years from now a story similar to the one highlighted above for traffic safety and last week for tobacco control will emerge for efforts to get the population to be more active, eat less and ultimately weigh less.  Based on the experience with smoking and traffic safety I am optimistic, but addressing the inactivity/obesity problem is not going to be a simple process.


One Response to “Obesity and Inactivity: Lessons From The Road”

  1. October 5th, 2012 at 12:34 am

    Road Safety says:

    A great safety sharing site

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