Somewhere between supersizing almost everything in sight and adding bacon to items that were previously un-bacon-ized, the United States has become the fattest country on Earth.
A recent article in USA Today declared that the U.S. is the fattest of 33 countries with advanced economic development with more than 71 million adult Americans categorized as obese (approximately 30 pounds over what is considered a “normal” weight). Add children into that equation (approximately 15% of kids are considered obese) and the number of overweight/obese Americans rises to more than two-thirds of the population.
The Supersizing of America
The expanding waistline of Americans is reflected in the larger portions that are now considered the norm – supersized fast food, double helpings, bigger items. Since the 1980s, the size of a hamburger has grown by 112% while the size of a regular bagel has grown by nearly 200%. Steaks are more than 220% bigger than they were 20 years ago, a breakfast muffin is now more than 300% larger, servings of pasta overflow from plates after growing by more than 450% and a modern chocolate chip cookie is now 700% bigger than it was in the 1980s.
The result is Americans are now routinely consuming up to 40% more food at each meal than their parents did. And, as expected, Americans are paying the price for their seeming voracious appetite. Obesity is the No. 1 preventable cause of death in the United States (beating out smoking) and is quickly becoming the No. 1 health problem overall. It’s linked to a number of debilitating conditions including heart, disease, diabetes, arthritis, asthma, hypertension and cancer. In addition, it can affect pregnancy, sexuality and the thyroid.
The number of deaths per year connected to obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control, has topped 400,000. Even in non-fatal cases of obesity, the condition can lead to emotional problems such as depression and low self-esteem.
While obesity is occurring in all corners of the country, Southern states are home to the majority of obese Americans. Alabama leads the way with more than 35% of adults considered obese. And while Western states such as Colorado and California may have thousands of residents who run, bike and hike with regularity, the numbers of obese residents in those states is growing as well.
A Global Problem
If it makes Americans feel any better (and it probably shouldn’t), we aren’t the only ones suffering from an increase in obesity among the general population. England and Australia have also posted alarming increases in the obesity rate. In fact, English-speaking nations in general have the highest obesity rates overall. The World Health Organizations predicts that by 2015, the number of obese people in the world overall will top 2.2 billion, with more than 700 million adults categorized as obese.
In addition to the health problems connected to obesity, there are financial burdens as well. It’s estimated that being obese means additional health care costs of almost $3,000 for a man and nearly $5,000 for a woman. And it’s not just the obese who bear the financial burden. The cost of caring for the preventable condition of obesity is getting close to 20% of the annual U.S. health care budget (nearly $148 billion per year).
Addressing the Issue
Thankfully, millions of Americans are trying to do something to confront their own weight problems, although results are mixed. More and more Baby Boomers are spending millions of dollars collectively to battle obesity in the form of weight loss programs (gym memberships, Weight Watchers, etc.), diet pills and drugs and even surgery to reduce their weight. In all, Americans are now spending more than $60 billion annually to lose weight.
At any given time, say the experts, more than 96 million people in the U.S. are on diets and the vast majority of them attempt “do-it-yourself” diets involving over-the-counter pills, meal replacement plans and drinks and following diet plans on Internet websites and diet books. The move toward self-conducted weight loss plans is driven primarily by a troubled economy that has limited the amount of money Americans are able to spend on weight loss programs.
New Investment Opportunities
But the fact remains they are spending money, creating a number of investment opportunities for entrepreneurs who are involved or wish to be involved in the weight loss industry. Whether it’s running their own business or investing in already-established businesses in the weight loss industry, opportunities are continuing to grow say financial experts.
Investment opportunities exist at all ends of the weight loss industry spectrum, from becoming a franchise owner of a fitness chain to opening a nutrition store to leading a Weight Watchers gathering to investing in a biotech company that is working on the latest weight loss pill or supplement. The possibilities for investment are plenty in an industry that knows no recession
According to Alan Carr, an analyst with investment banking firm Needham & Co., several companies are getting closer to succeeding in creating a weight loss pill that works without the harmful side effects that most weight loss pills seem to have. Such a pill, he said, has been sought by the industry for decades and the company that creates that product will reap big benefits.
For example, The FDA approved Lorcaserin, a weight loss drug, on June 27th 2012, recognizing it as an important tool to boost weight loss. Immediately after that, Arena Pharmaceutical’s stock price saw a new rise.
On the other end of the spectrum is the tried-and-true method of diet and exercise, and many investment opportunities exist in this area as well. Companies such as the aforementioned Weight Watchers as well as chain fitness centers remain strong investment opportunities.
Weight Watchers, in particular, has proven to be a popular investment option, particularly as more and more people start to see the health and economic benefits of losing weight. In 1999, the company sold for a mere $2.13 on the stock exchange but this past March sold for a whopping $83 a share. Experts at Morningstar say that while obesity, unfortunately, continues to be an American health problem, Weight Watchers is poised to be a major player in to the weight loss industry. The company itself says it sees “tremendous growth potential” with customers spending nearly $3 billion per year on Weight Watchers-related products and services.
Thanks to the efforts of doctors, non-profit agencies and even the federal government, millions of Americans are beginning to see the health and financial benefits of losing weight, which is, in turn, creating a number of exciting investment opportunities.