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Brainstorm Health: Obesity Rates, Insulin Bio-Hacking, Allergan’s Aesthetic Ambitions

September 14, 2018, 7:17 PM UTC

Happy Friday, readers! This is Sy.

But a new report from Trust for America’s Health and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation breaks down the most recently available obesity statistics, based on Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data, on a state-wide, and sobering, basis, finding that seven U.S. states have adult obesity rates that exceed 35%.

“[N]ew state level data from the CDC’s 2017 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS) show that adult obesity rates rose by statistically significant amounts in six states and no states experienced a reduction in rates of obesity,” write the study authors. “According to the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 18.5 percent of children and 39.6 percent of adults had obesity in 2015-2016. These are the highest rates ever documented by NHANES.” Those numbers suggest more than 93 million Americans are obese.

Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and West Virginia were the seven states found to have adult obesity rates higher than 35%, according to the study. Only Hawaii, Colorado, and the District of Columbia had rates lower than 25%.

The CDC says that this public health crisis isn’t just widespread—it’s expensive. “The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the United States was $147 billion in 2008 US dollars; the medical cost for people who have obesity was $1,429 higher than those of normal weight,” according to the agency.

But obesity is also a particularly difficult problem to solve given its disproportionate effect on racial minorities and poorer Americans. That’s tied to the wide-ranging, critical role that socioeconomics plays in public health, whether it be convenient access to affordable, nutritious food or a generally healthy environment. What’s clear is the problem is rampant, pricey (for individuals and the health system alike), and a tough issue to fix.

Read on for the day’s news, and have a wonderful weekend.

Sy Mukherjee


Bio-hacking the insulin market. My colleague Lucas Laursen has a fascinating post on a nascent bio-hacking community's efforts to engineer its own insulin in the wake of skyrocketing drug prices. To wit: Medicinal insulin has been around for decades, but producing it can be tricky—which is why an open source project called Open Insulin aims to, well, open up insulin-development technology to companies (and potentially the general public). The big question, as some have noted, is whether such an ambitious project will pass the smell test for regulators. (Fortune)


Allergan expects huge growth from its beauty portfolio. Drug giant Allergan has big ambitions for its flagship aesthetics (read: beauty products) business, currently driven by the mainstay Botox: The company said Friday it could see a doubling of aesthetics-related revenues by 2025. How? Largely thanks to Allergan's acquisition of Bonti Inc., through which Allergan hopes to create a longer-acting, lower-dosage skin care product. (Reuters)


A prominent cancer researcher resigns amid a swarm of controversy. The life sciences community has been in quite a stir over the last several days following a New York Times and ProPublica report criticizing Dr. José Baselga, the chief medical officer at world renowned cancer center Memorial Sloan Kettering, over unreported health industry-related ties in dozens of research articles. The reports of the various conflicts of interest drew rebukes from transparency watchdogs and some members of the medical community; however, Baselga's resignation from MSK on Thursday also raised questions about whether or not the criticism should have prompted such a dire response. Baselga stated he was resigning in part because the issue promised to become a distraction for Memorial Sloan Kettering. (New York Times)


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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