(CNN)There are two major factors that influence life expectancy: smoking habits and weight. And they’re heading in opposite directions.
While smoking’s popularity has been plummeting for decades — fewer than one in five people still smoke — obesity has climbed to epidemic proportions and now affects more than one in three American adults.
Obesity — dragged into the presidential race last week by Republican nominee Donald Trump — is a bigger threat to health and linked to higher rates of chronic illness than smoking, problem drinking or poverty.
These two trends are not unconnected. The average tobacco quitter gains 11 or 12 pounds over the long run. Although the benefits of not smoking are calculated to offset damage from the increased risk of obesity, the obesity tide is eroding some of the gains in life expectancy from reduced smoking.
Obviously, therefore, physicians are enthusiastically advising their heavier patients to lose weight, hoping for the same success as they have achieved with smoking, right? Well, no. In fact, even when doctors inform patients that their body mass index (BMI) is too high, few offer constructive guidance about how to lose weight, citing barriers such as lack of time, training and confidence.
Unlike smoking, a person’s flab is very much a part of them. Saying “you’re fat” comes to seem almost on a par with saying “you’re ugly.”
However, Donald Trump has recently bucked this trend. The presidential candidate has talked publicly and disparagingly about the weight of Alicia Machado, a Miss Universe winner, and has previously called talk-show host Rosie O’Donnell a “pig.”
The irony, not lost on many commentators, is that Donald Trump is not exactly slender himself. In fact, at 6 feet 3 inches and 236 pounds, according to his doctor, his body mass index (BMI) is 29.5, putting him on the cusp of obese (a BMI of 30 or greater).
Unlike the yoga-posturing, vegetable-munching Hillary Clinton, Trump doesn’t exercise. He eats buckets of fried chicken. He knows he should lose weight but his lifestyle gets in the way. He says he’s always been overweight.
In other words, he’s like an awful lot of Americans. So perhaps Trump is doing us a favour, making it fair game to talk about his size as a way to open discussions about obesity without upsetting those of a more sensitive disposition.
Perhaps fat-shaming Donald Trump might even count as a public service.
Read more: www.cnn.com