How to get rich from the global obesity crisis

The worldwide rate of obesity more than doubled between 1980 and 2008 and over 500 million people are obese around the world today. Once confined only to wealthy countries, obesity rates are skyrocketing in developing powers like Brazil and China as well. The economic effect is substantial as well, with 21 percent of annual medical spending in the United States going to obesity related illness.

But what does it mean for your portfolio? A new Bank of America/Merrill Lynch Global Research report looks at how investors can take advantage of what they call the "globesity" trends. Opportunities include: 

  • Pharmaceuticals and Health Care: We look at companies taking advantage of the FDA's increased support for obesity drug development. We also highlight companies tackling related medical conditions and needs including diabetes, kidney failure, hip and knee implants. We also consider equipment such as patient lifts, bigger beds and wider ambulance doors.
  • Food: We position companies on their efforts to access the $663 billion “health and wellness” market, as well as on how they are reformulating their portfolios to respond to increasing pressure such as “fat taxes” to reduce sugar and fat levels.
  • Commercial Weight Loss, Diet Management and Nutrition: Up to 50 percent of some western populations pursue dieting, targeted nutrition and behavioral change making it a $4 billion market in the U.S. and growing globally.
  • Sports Apparel and Equipment: This is the longer-term play, but we believe that promoting physical activity will become a key priority for more government health policies.

All seems pretty sound. Though it might also be worth keeping a position in Big Gulps as a hedge just in case there's a backlash to the backlash.



Ramadan becomes the newest front in Syria's civil war

This weekend marks the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan - a time of fasting, prayer, and self-reflection throughout the Muslim world. But every year, it starts with a controversy: Ramadan begins with the sighting of the first sliver of the new moon, and religious authorities often differ by a day on when that occurs.

In Syria, the predominantly Sunni opposition is embroiled in a guerilla war with the Alawite-led government. The two sides disagree over the future of their country, the nature of the conflict -- and, you guessed it, the start of Ramadan.

"The Syrian National Council announces ... Friday is the first day of Ramadan, unlike what was declared by the regime," read a statement released by the umbrella opposition group. President Bashar al-Assad's government, meanwhile, declared the holy month would begin on Saturday.

There's a regional political dimension at play here: Most of the Arab world's Sunni states -- such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, and Jordan -- have announced that Ramadan begins on Friday. These countries have been largely supportive of Syria's rebels. Meanwhile, Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon's Shiite community -- whose political leaders have supported to the Assad regime -- are starting Ramadan on Saturday.

Just another example of how what seems to be a purely theological dispute quickly becomes politicized amidst Syria's bloody sectarian conflict.