Capitalism Vs Health

Inference: A growing economy or a capitalistic economy has a direct correlation to the health issues of the citizens

One of my favorite pastimes is to watch street food preparation videos on YouTube. I enjoy watching when they cook food in the unhealthiest way possible to enhance the impression on the taste buds. An average Joe is only bothered about the taste of the food: the flavors of Indian spices, tons of butter, sweet and carbs, oh yeah, we all love carbs, isn’t it? It sure is very enticing and our brain keeps asking for more. Have you ever wondered why is it that when you gorge on that bag of chips, you simply cannot stop at one, reminds me of a tagline by Frito Lays sometimes back in the ’90s, ” No one can eat just one”? Hell, that is true; you can try, and you will fail. You know why? Is it the great formula of their seasoning or the best quality potatoes they use? The answer is neither. It is the salt that makes us want to eat just one more. Perfecting the amount of salt, to an already fried potato is the mantra here. The very same principles are used by fast-food chains with great marketing. Now add the awesome taste with an economical price tag and that is enough to entice people. The result of this enticement is increased BMI (Body Mass Index).

Butter rich street food

The million-dollar question is: did we notice the junk food culture emerged in the past 2-3 decades? When I speak to my parents about their upbringing there were hardly any restaurants. During my upbringing, relishing food in a restaurant was a luxury which was done probably once a quarter with a birthday or an anniversary celebration within the family. The majority of the food was home-cooked with fresh vegetables from the farm which was brought a week before. These days with the emergence of a variety of take-out, dine-in restaurants, and fast-food joints, eating food that is not home-cooked has increased two-three folds. We saw here how GDP has increased over the past 3 decades. This helps us see why most of the emerging economies were adopting capitalism.

What is Capitalism?

An economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state. In stable economies, government or political system will govern and regulate some of the trade.

Growing economy results in the increased sale of products, with it comes competition and that means more players in the market. There are several advantages to this system, the biggest being employment: many people will get a job (and a paycheck!) and it will increase their ability to enjoy their materialistic desires. But the system is such that it forces people to spend what they earn. The basic needs are food, home, shelter, and good health.  Once these are achieved, capitalism just goes ahead and provides a higher quality of the same commodities. People are enticed into spending and eating as much as they can, and an imminent impact is an increase in medical issues/ diseases/illnesses. With increased medical conditions, there are more hospitals, more doctors, nurses, machines, medicines … you get it. There will also be businesses that will tell people to avoid eating unhealthy food, there are businesses who will help you get back to lean from fat. I mean, you got the drill. Everything is linked and you create a problem which was not there before and to mitigate that problem start a business and the very same people employed in this business also have other kinds of issues, for which there are other businesses to help them out. This is a vicious cycle.

I am not an advocate of capitalism or socialism or fascism, but just exploring how increased GDP in the past 3 decades has had so many challenges, the most imminent being health conditions and so we will focus on that aspect.

United States GDP, Population & Obesity trend

They say numbers do not lie. Well, that is true. If you look at the data from the US alone, in the past 6 decades GDP has increased by 20 times or a whopping 1,856%, the population has increased by 122 million or 58% and the obesity rate in 1970 was at an average of 15% while in 2020 it stands at 46%. Please keep in mind there is an increase in population too, which means the number of people obese in 2020 is extremely high. There is a perfect correlation between increased GDP and obesity.

What could be the reason for this trend?

One for sure is this when the country gets rich citizens to start enjoying the pleasures it provides, the major one being splurging on food and alcohol. It is quite astonishing to see that most of the famous fast-food giants McDonald’s (First franchise 1955), Burger King (1959), Frito lay (1961), PepsiCo (expanded during the ’70s) had just begun their expansion around the same time.  It would be wrong to just nitpick some of these giant fast foods but, with capitalism comes competition and there were a lot more stores that opened to this idea. The point being it started happening in that era. To make it even worse, a local street food vendor has learned from these giants that people like tasty and sugary foods and not healthy ones. They simply try to match them by creating all sorts of unhealthy yet tasty dishes which are also cooked in the unhealthiest and unhygienic way.

Nothing wrong in the beginning!

There is nothing wrong when they started these places, but with time, more and more started to work on similar business models and most of them were routing only for the money part of the business and were least bothered about the health hazards it was creating amongst people, especially youngsters. When the damage was already done, with it emerged a newer market segment for Wellness and Fitness. The US suddenly saw a surge of thousands of gyms being opened to promote healthy living. Around the ’80s and ’90s was the time when physical education had started to pick up and today it stands at a massive $400 billion industry. Increased health issues are also reported in the past 3-4 decades, newer and newer diseases, disorders are being discovered each day, with them comes to the pharma industry creating newer drugs. The new generation of ‘smart people’ are going back to previous generations’ simplistic lifestyle and suddenly we see organic and veganism being picked. Well, this rat race is going to continue and increase with time.

The major cause of all this is people do not have time to cook a meal for themselves since they are working their ass off towards increasing economy, they trust in the companies who give them the food at affordable price. But are companies thinking about their consumers, that is debatable, since their targets are to cut costs and increase sales.

Solution ?

The only thing that would keep us sane is to educate ourselves in health and stay healthy by eating fresh vegetables and exercising at least 4 times a week, but most importantly not fall prey to whims of a marketing campaign in food industry.

Human Development Index

I was fascinated when i first came across this terminology, it is a ratio of several qualitative aspects which are quantified. It really is amazing how these parameters are converted into a number which is very useful to relate.

Below is the pictorial definition provided on the UN Website http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/human-development-index-hdi

The index ranges from 0 to 1 with 1 being the highest. One would get easily get confused and expect countries with a high GDP to have a high HDI but data proves otherwise. Top 10 countries mostly are from Europe and quiet surprisingly even 2 Asian countries made it at top. Below is the latest HDI data on the UN website.

CountryContinentH.D.IRank
NorwayEurope0.9531
SwitzerlandEurope0.9442
AustraliaOceania0.9393
IrelandEurope0.9384
GermanyEurope0.9365
IcelandEurope0.9356
HongKong,China(SAR)Asia0.9337
SwedenEurope0.9337
SingaporeAsia0.9329
NetherlandsEurope0.93110
2017- Top 10 countries with highest H.D.I

Now lets dice in slightly more. We have data from 1995-2017- 22 years which is more than sufficient to chalk out some inferences.

Continent19952017%AverageRank#Countries
Europe      0.75      0.8614%          0.81147
North America      0.65      0.7515%          0.71220
Oceania      0.69      0.725%          0.70311
South America      0.65      0.7516%          0.70315
Asia      0.61      0.7218%          0.67542
Africa      0.43      0.5426%          0.49654
H.D.I by Continental region

We see that there is an increase in H.D.I values from 1995 to 2017 for all regions. However there is an observable pattern, regions with lowest values seems to be growing at a higher rate. From bottom up the values are low but certainly the growth is higher. Growth here in this case also happens to be a function of countries in a particular region for instance Oceania has only 11 countries and hence we see only 5% growth but South America which is close with 15 countries seems to be doing a lot better with 16% growth.

There are countries which have made a significant improvement in their economy, lifestyle, education, life expectancy and health care. It is a very good sign to see them growing especially all of them being African countries it is worth an applaud from where they have picked up and risen. There is huge potential for growth and they for sure will be looking still better in next two decades.

Country19952017% Growth
Rwanda0.2340.524124%
Mozambique0.2290.43791%
Mali0.2620.42763%
Uganda0.3210.51661%
Guinea0.2950.45956%
Countries who made a significant improvement

While there are a couple of countries from the pool which did not make any improvements .Libya is still better off without any improvement but still maintaining a good H.D.I value but conflicts and terrorism has made Syria lose on human index values which greatly defines people trying to flee this country and seeking refuge in better regions.

Country19952017%
Libya0.7040.7060%
Syrian Arab Republic0.5790.536-7%
Countries with no growth and negative growth

Inference- A quantifiable number can let people know which country is best to live and which country is to be improved upon. In this case we see until 2017 if you live in Norway you are leading the best lives compared to rest of the world while not so likely with Syria.