World Obesity Day: Top 10 predictions of what the future might look like

From accepting ourselves as we are to the recognition of obesity as a disease by the federal government, the future looks bright for people living with obesity.

Rachel Atkins 8 minute read March 3, 2022
Rachel Atkins World Obesity Day

"We’re predicting that making one’s mental and physical health a priority, while practising self-acceptance, will continue to be in vogue," says Rachel Atkins, vice chair of the board and directory of strategy at Obesity Matters. SUPPLIED

Each day, I wake up and I get to do whatever I want. My every desire just shows up at my beck and call, and all I have to do is think about it. When I get a little bored with what seemed exciting yesterday, I find something better and more pleasurable tomorrow.

And when it comes to food, ingredients no longer matter. Nor do calories or fat or sugar or quantity. If all I want are potato chips and cake for dinner, I have it. Guilt-free. There’s also a continuous drip of my favourite drinks to wash everything down. In this world, self-indulgence isn’t a treat, it’s a way of life. And I’m not alone in this post-scarcity world — I’m surrounded by others basking in the dopamine frenzy.

This is what it might feel like to be a passenger in the year 2805 on the massive luxury cruise ship in space called Axiom, from Disney’s Wall-E — a movie that portrays humanity as having denigrated into a lazy, hedonistic existence.

What we see in the future

The year ahead won’t look much like life on Axion. At Obesity Matters, we predict that are still living through some form of a pandemic — an ongoing health crisis that’s not only physical, but psychological. Social media has fuelled a massive divide in belief systems among populations, and now, there’s even the worry of war.

All the while, we are seeing significant advances in technology that could lead to a brighter future in many areas of society. For those living with obesity or struggling to manage excess weight, new treatment options hit the market. We’ve also learned about new science to counter the damaging mantra of “just eat less and move more.”

At Obesity Matters, we know what it’s like to struggle with weight and the resistance of loving ourselves no matter our size. It’s made increasingly more challenging in a society that’s not so accepting of larger body shapes and sizes.

Still, we’re curious about what the next year holds that can help us on this journey towards kindness, acceptance and health — for us and our communities. And while we’d love to see some of our predictions come true, there are others we hope to avoid. But that’s the nature of predictions: we’re trying to guess the future in an ever-shifting landscape that can be, well, unpredictable.

Prediction #1. Hunka Hunka burning self-love

That younger generations will continue to pave a better way forward when it comes to self-love. So much so that accepting yourself just as you are will be in style.

Self-love means fighting back against the ills of perfectionism and prioritizing oneself. That could mean learning how to say “no” to family, friends or colleagues and opting to cultivate your mental health with a quiet night in. But it could also mean getting out there and mingling with friends and having some fun.

We’re predicting that making one’s mental and physical health a priority, while practising self-acceptance, will continue to be in vogue. Our focus will be less on weight and more on taking care of ourselves.

Prediction #2. The federal government recognizes obesity as a chronic disease

It would be a little late considering the Canadian Medical Association did this in 2015 — but better late than never. Having obesity recognized as the chronic disease that it is cannot only help to eliminate weight bias and stigma throughout society, but also lead to policy change that can help patients receive care they deserve.

Prediction #3: Eating for gut health becomes the No. 1 diet

Just Google “the gut diet” and you will find a never-ending list of products, services and books claiming considerable health benefits including boosting metabolism, eliminating food cravings, and helping you shed those extra pounds. Some say the science behind the gut’s role in weight is still not clear. Regardless, prioritizing gut health is important, but be aware of the diet trap!

Prediction #4: Precision medicine becomes the standard in obesity management

Some reputable institutions are now treating the different “kinds” of obesity as opposed to tying treatment to the severity of the disease. Have you ever heard that saying, “If you’ve seen one case of Alzheimer’s, you’ve seen one case of Alzheimer’s”? The idea is that everyone experiences Alzheimer’s in a different way. Could this be true for obesity? We hope to see an emerging trend in obesity care that takes a more holistic and targeted view of one’s health. Putting together genetics, biomarkers and life circumstances could lead to a more precise treatment plan and better health outcomes.

Prediction #5: Celebrities give the obesity-isn’t-a-lifestyle-choice movement a larger voice

As the celebrities speak up about obesity not being a “lifestyle choice,” there will be a marked shift in beliefs. When someone like Queen Latifa lends her voice to help rid society of the stigma and bias associated with extra weight, the impact is tremendous. And with more celebrity attention and headlines, obesity is no longer seen as a behavioural disorder, but a disease with behavioural symptoms.

Prediction #6: Specialized obesity care from the comfort of your home

The pandemic forced us to leapfrog many hurdles in virtual care — and prove that it’s possible to be agile while meeting patient needs. Now, people in remote locations who are living with obesity can finally access needed care and support that was previously only afforded to city dwellers.

Prediction #7: We start to see exercise in a different light

We heard it loud and clear throughout the pandemic: the virus can’t spread outside, vitamin D from the sun is best and make sure to move your body to kick-start your immune system. Oh, and these things can make us feel good too.

The reality is that exercise doesn’t necessarily help you lose weight — but it can help you maintain a healthy weight. It also has a ton of other benefits for your overall health. We predict that people will begin to decouple weight loss and exercise. Instead, let’s put exercise (fitness or movement — whatever you want to call it) in its rightful place — just plain good for us.

Prediction#8: Obesity is big business — potentially in a good way

Large private businesses will see the “size of the prize” which will lead to innovation and large investments in helping people manage life with obesity. Big tech companies will produce and acquire apps to allow better diagnosis of obesity and even use virtual reality for improved therapy. Large corporations, like management consulting firms, will help drive more targeted research to relevant sectors, ultimately helping to improve the lives and outlooks of people living with the disease.

Prediction #9: The great sugar rush

 When COVID-19-related restrictions lift, could we experience a roaring-twenties type comeback where we throw food caution to the wind? With obvious supply chain disruptions and the cost of food continuing to rise, highly processed foods with an extra long shelf life (and sometimes lower price tag) may feel like the only options.

Could that lead to rising consumption levels of unhealthy, processed, and sugary foods?

Recent Netflix shows like Heavenly Bites: Mexico definitely don’t help when it feels like they’re priming us with food porn to give us the extra nudge to go ahead and indulge.

Prediction #10: The obesity levy breaks

If social media could predict the future, sadly we’d see an added fee for those living with obesity. Anyone living in a larger body already knows the personal cost of carrying extra weight, and now the pandemic has highlighted the cost to our health-care systems and society. Will we see things like insurance premiums and added tax for those living with a disease that has yet to be acknowledged as such by the federal government, where much of society still sees obesity as a “lifestyle” choice? Or will we see the opposite? That the government recognizes obesity for what it is, and allows people to get the care they need and deserve.

Will these predictions come true?  No one knows for sure, but in the meantime, our aim is to position ourselves in the conversation about our future so that we have a greater chance to influence better outcomes.

As obesity rates continue to trend upwards (around 28 per cent of adults aged 18 years and older in Canada are living with obesity, up from 26 per cent in 2015), it’s not just the individual who is affected, but also their friends and families, their communities and society as a whole. That’s why I feel the solution has to be layered and addressed at all levels — from the individual on up to the level of government.

Whether it’s the real world or a virtual one — thinking back to the world of Wall-E — let’s hope we have the wherewithal to recognize that the “septuacentennial cupcake in a cup” — a fan favourite on board the Axiom cruise — is nothing more than a highly palatable food-like substance that does anything but nourish our body.

Instead, I’d like to live in a world where we are attracted to real food, and where we delight in knowing that fuelling our body with locally-grown, sustainable food means living healthier and happier lives. Certainly, a gal can dream.

Rachel Atkins is vice-chair of the board and director of strategy at Obesity Matters.

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