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America: Still Fat, But Starting to Work On It

3 August 2013 in Trading Ideas

A recent study from the University of Washington has shown that US citizens are on the move – literally.

More Americans are boosting their levels of physical activity, even though the resulting impact on the country’s obesity rates have yet to show any improvement.1

First, the bad news: Using data from 2001 to 2009, the university’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation found that the percentage of the US population considered obese has risen. What’s more, obesity risk factors from poor diets, smoking, and high blood pressure all are causing a drag on US life expectancies, which have increased slowly compared to the country’s economic peers between 1985 and 2010.

Because of the rise in obesity, high body mass index is now the third-leading risk factor to health. “More aggressive strategies to prevent and control obesity are needed. Diet and changes in individual behavior are key components,” said Dr. Ali Mokdad, professor of global health at the Institute, in a press release.

Fortunately, the study’s key finding is that those behavioral changes appear to be taking place. More people are running, biking and exercising in other ways in hundreds of counties across the US. According to the study, the rise in physical activity will have a positive health impact on Americans by reducing death and chronic disability from cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.

“Around the country, you can see huge increases in the percentage of people becoming physically active, which research tells us is certain to have health benefits,” said Institute Director Dr. Christopher Murray. “If communities in the US can replicate this success and tackle the ongoing obesity impact, it will see more substantial health gains.”

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Especially promising were physical activity increases from 2001 to 2009 in many counties across the southern US, where a larger portion of the nation’s obese reside. Counties in Kentucky, Georgia and Florida all reported big gains. In Morgan County, Kentucky, for example, we saw the biggest increase in the country of any US county’s female residency – from 25.7% to 44%. (For the study, sufficient physical activity was defined as 150 total minutes of moderate activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity.)

fighting fat If this trend continues, there may be also be a benefit for investors in the obesity-reducing industry. Our Fighting Fat motif, which comprises stocks of companies involved in weight management services, diabetes care, weight loss drugs, and fitness centers, has gained 9% in the past month. The S&P 500 is up 6% in that same period. So far in 2013, the motif is up 23.5%, and the S&P 500 has risen 18.3%.

1Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, “Obesity continues to rise in nearly all counties but Americans becoming more physically active, too,” July 10, 2013, http://www.healthmetricsandevaluation.org/news-events/news-release/obesity-continues-rise-nearly-all-counties-americans-becoming, (accessed July 30, 2013).