I wrote this article last year, and the current weight statistics have not varied much from when it was written. Writing this paper and doing the research was a real eye-opener on what Americans are facing with obesity on the rise.
Obesity Risks and Pre-emptive Moves
With the coming of the fall we are not only bombarded by endless beautiful leaves needing raking and bagging, but by the extravagant and delicious foods of the holidays. With Halloween candy still hidden away in the cabinets and Thanksgiving pies and potatoes looming on the horizon, it’s a normal time to worry about your waistline. There’s no need to swear off the sweet-stuff, but moderation is key. For most of us, we expect a few holiday set backs in our otherwise healthy food routines before returning to normal eating, but for some of us, there is no break in this over eating cycle. For 34% of American adults over the age of 20, obesity is the norm.
In the last twenty years, the word “obesity” has become commonplace both on news programs and in newspaper headlines- but what does obesity really mean? Obesity is now considered a Disease, and is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater; BMI is calculated from your weight and height in a simple equation (to get your BMI multiply your weight in pounds by 703, divide this number by your height squared). According to the World Health Organization, over one billion people worldwide are now overweight and 300 million are clinically obese. Data from the Centers for Disease Control, collected from 2007-2008, shows that 72.5 million adults in the United States are obese. While 34% of adults in the USA are obese, another 34% of adults are already overweight and trending toward obesity. As if these statistics weren’t frightening enough, the obesity rate is climbing by 1% each year, and the World Health Organization predicts that the USA will reach 70% obesity rate within the population by 2030. Though all races are factored into these statistics, not all races are affected equally by obesity trends; the reasons for these ethnic differences are still unknown.
Recent findings are showing differences in obesity trends among ethnicities as well as state residence. One such example of these differences is revealed in the Centers for Disease Control study showing that blacks have a 51% higher prevalence of obesity and Hispanics have a 21% higher prevalence of obesity than whites. Not only do adult minorities have a higher incidence of obesity than whites, but adolescent minorities have an increasing trend in obesity too. Between 1988-1994 and 2007-2008 the prevalence of obesity increased from 11% to 16% in white boys, 10% to 19% in black boys, and 14% to 26% in Hispanic boys. That’s over a 5% increase across the board for adolescent boys over a twenty year span. The figures are just as outrageous for girls; an increase from 8% to 14% in white girls, 16% to 29% in black girls, and 13% to 17% in Hispanic girls. Some theorize that adolescents are becoming obese due to the decrease in physical activities at home and at school, but adults and adolescents are not the only one’s becoming obese. What’s even more disturbing is the number of young children who are now obese, 10% of children age 2-5, and 20% of 6-11 year olds are clinically obese. The average 2 year old weighs approximately 28 pounds, for a child that young to be obese he would need to weigh an overwhelming 40lbs; nearly double his own body weight! These numbers show us that obesity is growing across all age categories and is growing quickly. A lot of speculation has been made on why young people are becoming obese so quickly, most people point to video games and sedentary lifestyle. While video games cannot be the only culprit, physical inactivity paired with poor diet choice plays a big role in excess weight gain. Region also has something to do with the increase in obesity trends, area’s hit hardest by obesity are southeast regions including Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina. Diet, particularly the focus on fried foods in the southwest of the nation, seems to be the largest factor when comparing regional obesity. All of these are staggering statistics when you consider the consequences of obesity.
Obesity comes with a high cost to those with the disease, including a greatly increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, osteoarthritis, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, asthma, various cancers and all lead to premature death. Seventy percent of cardiovascular disease is related to obesity, and hypertension alone leads to congestive heart failure, renal failure, coronary heart disease and organ damage; added with the other risks associated with obesity this is a deadly cocktail in the human body. High blood pressure is twice as common in obese adults as in those at healthy weights, and over 80% of people with type II diabetes are overweight or obese. Recalling that children are also becoming obese it is now known that 1 in 4 overweight children are already showing early signs of type II diabetes. Obesity in pregnant woman is even more dangerous due to the added stress obesity places on the fetus. Obesity during pregnancy is associated with increased risk of death in both the mother and child, increased risk of birth defects and increased risk for gestational diabetes and problems with labor and delivery. These types of high risk diseases linked to obesity are preventable; most can be associated with diet choices and inactivity, no single factor is to blame. With all of these risk factors rearing their ugly heads, one may feel hopeless as to what can be done to combat the risks of obesity.
There is hope to lower the health risks associated with obesity and to combat obesity itself. The World Health Organization recommends people eat fewer foods that are high in saturated fat and sugar, less salt, more fresh fruit and vegetables and perform one hour of moderate-intensity activity each day. For some, these recommendations are harder than they seem. An easier way to a healthier weight is by taking “baby steps”; it is easy to be overwhelmed by making too many changes all at once. Begin by slowly cutting back on sugar and fat, and increase daily activity and movements. Try to prepare meals at home to cut back on takeaway foods and fast foods. Keep yourself moving throughout the day, take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk whenever possible and consider a simple light workout when cleared by your doctor. Get your family involved in eating healthy and getting active. New studies suggest that weight gain spreads through social circles, showing that the more overweight friends you have, the more likely you are to become overweight; instead of cutting back on social time, try to involve your friends in healthier activities. It’s much easier to stick to a healthy lifestyle when you have a support group, such as good friends or family. Research, from the Public Library of Science Biology, shows that exercise even helps you feel full by triggering specific neurons in the brain. These neurons control satiety and help reduce caloric intake by effecting eating patterns. Continuous overeating is shown to create a “neural signal malfunction” that makes it harder for you to feel full. Increasing exercise restores the neuron communication and allows you to reduce caloric intake by feeling full, this is particularly important for those who are obese. Feeling fuller reduces the desire to overeat, and starts the body on a path to recovery. Losing a few pounds not only increases your self confidence but it also lowers your blood pressure and strengthens your heart. There are many programs designed to help overweight individuals that take into account special needs, such as limited mobility, diabetes or other disease risk factors.
Though obesity has become a national health threat, there are things that can be done to combat this disease. Knowing the risks of obesity and the steps that can be taken to prevent those health problems allows you to make the correct choices to lead a healthy lifestyle. Healthy choices are always available, and there are many ways to get into a healthy lifestyle. One great website to look at for tips, information, and healthy options is http://www.healthypeople.gov. Find groups around your home and ask friends to get involved in healthier choices and activities. Take as many steps as you can to beat obesity and the risks it carries.
Bradley DW: The epidemic of overweight and obesity: a challenge to medicine, public health and public policy. N C Mdd J 67:268-272, 2006
Brian D. Biagioli: Advanced Concepts of Personal Training, 169-173
CDC: Obesity Trend Study: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/trends.html
CDC: Vital Signs: State-Specific Obesity Prevalence Among Adults– United States, 2009
Nancy Hellmich: USA Today November Study, Obesity is contagious among friends
Public Library of Science Biology, Nov 8, 2010
Rachel Newcombe, Bupa Health News Reporter: http://www.bupa.co.uk/health_information/html/health_news/070303who.html
World Health Organization: Obesity and other diet-related chronic diseases list of publications: http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/obesity/en/