Wednesday, January 5, 2011

What's It Going to Take America?!

The latest statistics on obesity in America are frightening. While just 13% of the population was
obese in the 1960s, today one in three are obese, an almost 26% increase since 2007 alone. That is 2.4 million more Americans tumbling into the obese category in the past two years. Almost 45% have abdominal obesity, defined as a waist size of 35 inches or more in women and 40 inches or more in men. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of US States where at least 30% of the adult population is obese has tripled to nine. Ten years ago, no state had an obesity prevalence this high. CDC Director, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden says, “Over the past several decades, obesity has increased faster than anyone could have imagined it would.”

Americans also are in serious denial about the problem. Being fat has become normal, so many
people don’t even realize there are overweight. In a Harris Survey, people gave their heights and
weights, which then were calculated to obtain body mass index (BMI) scores. A third of those in the overweight category thought they were normal size, while 70% of those classified as obese thought they were simply overweight. Among the morbidly obese, almost 60% toned down their opinion of how dangerously fat they were, while another 39% considered themselves merely overweight. Interestingly, about half of obese people don’t think they are eating the wrong foods and only 27% of morbidly obese people think they eat more than they should. (In case you are doubtful of what constitutes obesity it is a BMI of 30 or more. For example, a 5’4” woman weighing at least 174 pounds, or a 5’10” man who weighs at least 209 pounds would fit this description.)

Being overweight undermines mental and physical health and life quality in general. Even a few
extra pounds hinders function of cells that line blood vessels, increasing the risk for hypertension
and atherosclerosis. Serious weight problems are a time bomb for disaster, increasing a person’s risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, dementia, arthritis, vision loss, depression, infertility, suppressed immunity, shortened life expectancy, cancer, and much more. Chubby little girls begin puberty as early as age 7- or 8-years-old, increasing their risk for breast cancer down the road. In addition, as weight has increased, the number of healthy days each year that Americans lose because of weight has doubled, with many overweight people adding an additional 24 days of sick time to their already illness-prone lives.

At this rate, obesity will break the back of the healthcare system with its enormous burden of
disease and disability, lost work time, and strain on almost every industry. More people are working fewer years and need more social support. Public facilities and transportation must be redesigned to accommodate heavier people with more health problems who also can’t walk or climb stairs, let alone fit into airplane seats or public toilet stalls. What’s it going to take America to put down the doughnuts and pick up the gym membership?! The obesity issue is no longer just an individual matter. It is a social issue that will require the same efforts as were taken with tobacco. Taxes on junk food, public service announcements, increased social incentives to walk, more recess and P.E. time in schools, insurance companies that pay for prevention, as well as increased deductibles for people with high BMIs are all being considered.
Elizabeth Somer, M.A.,R.D.

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