I have been bombarded with the word “obesity” recently. The BBC recently broadcast an intriguing programme called “The Men Who Made Us Fat” which sought to establish why obesity levels are rising around the world. It concluded that sugar is one of the major contributors to obesity. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved the first prescription diet pill in 13 years to combat the obesity problem and Bank of America Merrill Lynch recently published an excellent piece of research on obesity. With 300 million people in the world now obese, the author argues that obesity is nothing less than a global sustainability mega-trend.
Obesity itself is a health problem, but it also causes other health problems like kidney failure, diabetic ulcer and osteoarthritis. Obesity is the primary cause of diabetes, which in turn leads to approximately 45% of all kidney disease cases. About 30% of the global advanced wound care market addresses patients with diabetic ulcers. Knee osteoarthritis is 4-5 times more common in overweight people compared with people of normal body weight. We have been investing in related companies for a long time. DaVita and Fresenius SE (through its subsidiary Fresenius Medical Care) are long-term holdings in the IM WHEB Sustainability Fund. They are leading kidney dialysis services providers in the US. Thanks to NxStage Medical’s small portable hemodialysis system, home hemodialysis is also now possible, which significantly improves patients’ quality of life. Smith & Nephew is the world’s largest producer of arthroscopy products for knee, hip and shoulder reconstruction and the second largest producer of advanced wound management products to treat hard-to-heal wounds.
Obviously, more and more people are aware of the health problems associated with obesity and watch their body mass index (BMI) carefully. Indeed as I glance across the WHEB office I see two of my colleagues busily crunching numbers to calculate their daily calorie intake. Counting calories has become something of a preoccupation. Approximately 1 in 4 peple in the UK are trying to manage their diet to improve their health or reduce their weight. Media interest, such as the BBC programme mentioned above, is in part responsible. This suggested that BMI may not be a good proxy of our body fat. Some of us may be TOFIs (Thin Outside Fat Inside), meaning that too much body fat is stored internally. The rising awareness should bring more business opportunities to companies like Whole Foods Market and Weight Watchers, which fit into our Wellbeing theme. In contrast to our Health theme, the Wellbeing theme comprises companies which promote preventive care and healthy lifestyle. As always, prevention is better than cure.
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