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Obesity in America vs Europe: Two maps explain it all
If your BMI is higher than 30, you're technically obese. These maps show how many people per European country (and U.S. state) suffer from that medical condition.
In Rubens' time, to pack a few extra pounds was the privilege of the powerful. Hence the adjective Rubenesque, describing the curvaceous ladies that fill out his paintings, who were rotund because they were rich, and all the more desirable for it.
A few centuries on, thanks to industrial farming, food is no longer a status symbol and the specter of famine has receded from our collective consciousness. In fact, food abundance is such that the link between calorie intake and social status has not so much been obliterated as it has reversed.
In the developed world, virtually everybody now has easy access to cheap, high-calorie fast food and ready meals. Keeping the pounds off requires more time, effort and money than most people can afford. Especially if you live in a 'food desert', where fast food is plentiful but the elements of a healthy, balanced diet are difficult to find.
As a result, the average Body Mass Index (BMI) has shot up across the developed world (and beyond). BMI is a measure of body fat based on an adult's height and weight (here's how to calculate yours).
If your BMI is under 18.5, you're commonly accepted as being underweight. The 'normal' weight range is from 18.5 to 25. You're overweight from 25 to 30, and obese if you're over 30. Obesity is a medical condition. It means you've accumulated enough body fat for it to negatively impact your health. If you're obese, you have a higher risk of getting diabetes, osteoarthritis and certain types of cancer and/or cardiovascular diseases.
Even though obesity affects a rapidly growing number of people, the share of people with a BMI>30 shows a remarkable variation across national and state borders. This map of BMIs in Europe shows Turkey as the outlier in Europe, not just geographically but also with reference to BMI. The country on the southeastern edge of Europe has the highest score, with nearly one in three Turks (32.10%) being obese.
Number two at a fair distance, but way ahead of its immediate neighbors, is the UK, with well over a quarter of the adult population being clinically overweight. The rest of the top five, all at or just above 26%, are all in Eastern Europe: Hungary, Lithuania and the Czech Republic (in that order).
If, as indicated above, higher levels of obesity could be linked to higher levels of poverty, can national BMI levels be interpreted as an indication of a country's overall wealth? As this map indicates: probably not—at least not in isolation.
Take the countries with the continent's lowest rates of obesity, Bosnia (17.90%) and Moldova (18.90%). They are among the continent's poorest. Curiously, however, the next-best scoring countries are all high-income countries: Switzerland (19.50%), Denmark (19.70%) and Italy (19.90%).
Could it be that Moldova and Bosnia are too poor even to have the 'basic' fast food infrastructure present in food deserts elsewhere? And have Denmark, Switzerland, and Italy—surely rich enough to have easy access to greasy foods—developed successful coping strategies, say: constant exercise and healthy eating as desirable lifestyles?
Perhaps, but then the mystery is why the Norwegians (23.10%) score so much worse than their fellow Scandinavians in Denmark (and Sweden). Or why Portugal (20.80%) scores so much better than their otherwise fairly similar neighbors in Spain (23.80%).
While we're comparing: how are the Americans doing? The map above shows the percentage of adults in each country with a BMI higher than 30 and is based on WHO data for 2017. The map below does the same for U.S. states, and for the same year.
West Virginia leads the nation, with a whopping 37.7% adult obesity rate. Four more states have a score over 35%, all in the Deep South: Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. That still leaves seven high-BMI-level states before the average drops to the level of Europe's worst offender, Turkey—with South Carolina (32.10%) and Nebraska (32%) achieving nearly similar scores.
In all, nearly half the states have an adult obesity rate of more than 30%. Interestingly, there is a clear geographic division, not just as far as four of the five worst-performing states are concerned, but also when it comes to the better-performing ones. With the exception of Hawaii, Florida, Minnesota, Maryland and Virginia, all states with adult obesity levels below 30% form two contiguous blocks, out West and in the Northeast.
Still, the success of the best-performing states is relative, as shown in the table below, ranking both U.S. states and European countries by their adult obesity rates. Colorado, the state with the lowest adult obesity rate (22.3%) scores just as high (or low) as Germany, firmly in the middle of the European ranking. California, with the fifth-lowest figure in the U.S., has exactly the same rate of adult obesity—one in four—as Bulgaria, which has the ninth-highest adult obesity rate in Europe.
Strange Maps #889
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
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How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.
One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.
A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.
- Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
- Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
- Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Munazza Alam – a graduate student at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.
Credit: Jackie Faherty
Jupiter's Colorful Cloud Bands Studied by Spacecraft<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8a72dfe5b407b584cf867852c36211dc"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GzUzCesfVuw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims.