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A national weight problem?

A new study suggests that obesity is increasing in the US:

Currently, figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put the prevalence of overweight and obesity in adults at about 66 percent. But lead study author Dr. Youfa Wang of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore says that if current overweight and obesity trends continue, 86 percent of Americans could be overweight or obese by the year 2030.

The standard measure used is the body mass index (BMI) that is obtained by diving your mass (measured in kilograms) by the square of your height (measured in meters). This website calculates it for those who use pounds and feet and inches. A BMI of 30 or over indicates obesity while 25 or over means overweight. The ‘normal’ (i.e., supposedly desirable) range lies between 18.5 and 25

The study’s authors also say that, “By 2048, all American adults would become overweight or obese.” I tend to be wary of this kind of extrapolation, especially when it involves human behavior. A self-correction usually sets in at some point.

Another study released around the same time projects figures that are not quite as high:

If obesity rates continue to climb in the U.S. as they’ve done in the past, about half of all men and women could be obese in 20 years, adding an extra 65 million obese adults to the country’s population.

The current figure of 66% of overweight and obese adults surprised me. Can it really be that two out of every three people are like that or is the cut-off for being overweight too low? One common comment I hear from overseas visitors is their initial surprise at the number of overweight people they see in the US. Have I simply got used to thinking of larger people as the norm after living in the US for so long?

One of the peculiar features of the coverage of people’s weight in the media is the appearance of headless torsos accompanying the stories. News stories on obesity will be accompanied by photos and videos of people from the neck down, an indication of the stigma associated with being overweight. In fact, overweight people are often subjected to gratuitously rude comments and made to feel as if they have some kind of moral failing.

Some are fighting back, saying that they do not see obesity as a disease or even a problem, and definitely not anything to be ashamed of or have to apologize for. They say that that is simply who they are and the rest of the population simply has to deal with it. They have rejected the idea that the word fat is some kind of slur requiring the use of euphemisms to soften it, and have embraced it and made it their own, the way that the gay community did with the word queer. They are fat and proud of it.

The Daily Show had a segment on the coverage of obesity some time ago, and interviewed some who see the campaigns against obesity and the drive to eat healthier as a sign of creeping fascism.

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Comments

  1. says

    ‘Have I simply got used to thinking of larger people as the norm after living in the US for so long?’

    Yes, you have, and I’m really surprised by the tone of your comment. The health consequences of obesity are well-established, and combating it is a legitimate public concern, especially when the state has to “bail us out” in later life for making years of poor dietary choices.

    Hysteria aside, the Obama administration has done essentially nothing to challenge the revolting power of the big agribusiness concerns like Monsanto and ADM. The movie, Food, Inc, should be required viewing, but really doesn’t go far enough in exposing the soul-destroying ugliness of industrialized agriculture. There’s something seriously wrong with our food economy (to say nothing of our morality) when dead animals are sold as burgers for less than a salad. And there’s something seriously wrong with consumers who can’t perceive the extent to which they have been manipulated into buying crap (not to put too fine a point on it) that kills them but does wonders for corporate bottom lines.

  2. Scott says

    I’ve struggled with obesity all my life. I’ve been fat off and on since probably about 1969. Over the years I have lost a total of at least 275 – 300 lbs. Of course I would gain it back. Hopefully this time, after losing 110 pounds over the course of the last two years, I will manage to keep it off.

    I see the culprit for obesity being all the sugars , carbohydrates and processed foods that are so cheaply and abundantly available. When I quit having pasta, most dairy, bread, corn and made sure I ate a diet of lower carb veggies and more protein and fat, I lost the weight without experiencing deprivation.

    It’s the processed foods and huge amounts of carbs I think is responsible for obesity – even more so than lack of exercise (though I agree people should exercise moderately in the very lease). High carb diets seem to make people hungrier sooner and lead to the consumption of more high carb and sugar foods.

    The BMI doesn’t seem like a realistic measure to mme. At my height, if I got down to the upper limits of my weight for a healthy BMI, I think I would look anorexic.

    I’m wondering if a Waist to hip ratio or a straight out body fat percentage measurement would be more realistic.

    I think the BMI is an easy, mindless tool for the overlord insurance companies and I wonder at how reality based it truly is as a number for real people to use.

  3. Nathan & the Cynic says

    When I was in boot, one of the drill instructors said commented that everybody who made it through boot would forever perceive most Americans as fatties. He was right.

  4. Nathan & the Cynic says

    When I was in boot, one of the drill instructors said commented that everybody who made it through boot would forever perceive most Americans as fatties. He was right.

  5. Nathan & the Cynic says

    When I was in boot, one of the drill instructors said commented that everybody who made it through boot would forever perceive most Americans as fatties. He was right.

  6. Nathan & the Cynic says

    When I was in boot, one of the drill instructors said commented that everybody who made it through boot would forever perceive most Americans as fatties. He was right.

  7. Nathan & the Cynic says

    When I was in boot, one of the drill instructors said commented that everybody who made it through boot would forever perceive most Americans as fatties. He was right.

  8. Nathan & the Cynic says

    When I was in boot, one of the drill instructors said commented that everybody who made it through boot would forever perceive most Americans as fatties. He was right.

  9. says

    I totally agree that the overweight, or “fat” as some may prefer, should not feel ashamed, be stigmatized, or apologize for anything. I’m all for that. However, over the years the fat acceptance rhetoric has gone a step further- I’ve seen groups and followers twist and misuse science to squelch any possible chance that being overweight can be unhealthy. Come on people, we have a type II diabetes epidemic – in children! That’s very serious!
    I have mental illness, something that is also stigmatized (though I can hide it). I do not feel ashamed or have anything to apologize for, and yes, people do have a similar attitude, that it can just be cured if you have a strong character with a lotta’ old fashioned gumption. However, I would never twist facts or say I’m proud of it, or that it doesn’t have negative effects on my life or health. That’s ludicrous. It is what it is, and I can *accept* that.
    The fact that this (small) group of people are trying so hard to make obesity positive and even lie/delude themselves to do it is suspicious. The lady doth protest too much, me thinks.

  10. says

    I totally agree with Richard Frost (the post above) on this one. No need to point fingers or arouse emotive responses. If we all get back to propagating the basics – understanding what you eat (nutrition) and what you do (physical activity) we will avoid skewing the bell graph.

  11. says

    Shalom Mano,

    Years ago I read a news story that contained an astonishing number: we produce more than 7,000 calories a day for every man, woman and child in the United States.

    In this country food is cheap and marketers have devoted a great deal of time and money to convince us that, as good consumers, we have a patriotic obligation to eat more.

    The challenge is multifaceted and I don’t let anyone, including myself and the extra 80 pounds I’m carrying around, off the hook. As cocaine was to Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional Sherlock Holmes, so too is food to me. I’ve yet to find a practical solution on how to consistently follow the only weight control mantra that truly works: eat less, exercise more. Just do it, doesn’t do it.

    B’shalom,

    Jeff

  12. Peter says

    I think Scott is on the right track. Processed foods are so ubiquitous it’s all too easy to wind up popping an extra few hundred calories a day.

    Michael Pollan has a simple rule:
    You can eat anything you want, as long as you make it yourself.

    Simple to say, hard to follow.

  13. says

    I used to think that the case against obesity was clear cut but a colleague of mine, a professor of nutrition, has pointed out that the negatives of obesity are not that clear cut. True, it affects your lifestyle and there are some diseases that are correlated with it, but when one compares mortality rates, there is not a huge difference.

    He gave me a lot of references to studies that I have not had time to go through yet, but I will do so at some point and will summarize the results.

  14. says

    I agree with Pollan (and Peter) that as long as you are cooking your own food starting with basic ingredients, you are likely to have a healthy diet.

  15. says

    Hello Professor Mano,

    Recently I read a post related to this topic here:
    http://blog.womenshealth.northwestern.edu/2010/10/why-cant-americans-be-less-fat/.

    It is about the Italian way of living- their eating habits and lifestyle which are stated as reasons for the less number of obese people in Italy when compared to the USA. But, the percentage of obesity among the youngsters there seems to be shooting up due to the excessive fast food consumed by them.

    Processed foods and sedentary jobs with total lack of physical activity seem to be culprits. Consuming food that you make yourself is of course the best, but easily said than done as pointed out by Peter.

    A simple rule is to eat small portions of healthy food many times a day and see the magical results. It definitely works. It does.
    Cheers
    Yvonne

  16. says

    Yvonne,

    I wrote a series of posts on food some time ago that I think you might like, especially the last one.

    A point that food writer Michael Pollan makes is that we seem to ignore the fact that most countries have a cuisine, combinations of foods developed over centuries, that provide a good balance. We tend to pick and chose individual dishes from various cuisines as the fancy takes us, and the resulting loss of balance may be why we have unhealthier diets..

  17. says

    Being in the alternative healing field for several years, what I’ve noticed is that the biggest health problem facing mankind today, is OBESITY and the problem can squarely be blamed on the commercialization of the food industry. There is just so much JUNK in our food today, it’s actually a wonder that people aren’t dropping dead like flies!

    Everyone should take a serious look at eating as much natural organic foods as they can, and use alternative healing methods over pharmaceuticals where they can.

  18. says

    Obesity is, without question, an epidemic in the United States. It’s sad that simple lifestyle changes and a commitment to making healthy choices is all that it takes to avoid becoming a statistic, yet the majority (66%) of Americans simply cannot do this. Hopefully someday, somehow, people will get the message and make changes for the better.

  19. says

    Obesity is and will continue to be a problem in the US. There are a number of factors contributing to this such as the fast food industry as well as the lunch programs in many of the schools.

    I feel that adults who are obese can make a conscience effort to change their lifestyle (should they want). It’s not as easy for young children in schools who don’t have alternatives than junk food and simple sugars.

    Then again, we’re in a weak economy now and food that is less expensive usually is not the healthiest. We need to find a way to get healthy food on the cheap so that we can feed our nation and get them healthier. Too many problems facing our nation today come from the lack of exercise and junk food that we consume. I agree with Dr. Dave!

  20. says

    It all starts at home. If parents could take the time to cook a decent meal, children will eat better and learn about the correct food types. Most just want a quick fix and forget about the crazy amount of carbs they are consuming which leads the body into becoming insulin resistant. Search The Primal You

  21. says

    Rob is right, ‘it all starts at home’. We subconsciously inherit our eating habits. Parents must take action, cook healthy meals. And I think natural or organic foods/ingredients must be affordable as well.

  22. says

    The obesity epidemic has led to the huge rise in diabetes in America. It is estimated that 70 million Americans are pre diabetic. If they dont learn healthy eating routines and the importance of regular physical activity, in order to lose weight and keep it off, they will become type 2 diabetics.

  23. says

    You mean people are overweight because they eat too much?

    Thank you so much for that unheard of revelation. There I thought that we could scarf down burgers and fries all day and then walk 15 minutes and that
    would solve the problem.

  24. says

    I spend a lot of time in Asia. I have notice the introduction of western food into there diets, it is have a big effect on there weight (rich kids there can be fat) and the health. there simple rice and veggie and fruit diets which produced healthy folks before is being replace and the western health issue are showing up in the east! First world country need to be the example. We all to be a where of what we put in our months!
    jimmie

  25. says

    With the alarming number of increasing obesity rates, it is very important for our teens to practice good eating and exercising habits to break the cycle. Parents at home can teach their kids to practice good eating habits by cooking healthy meals and working out with them, even if it’s just a walk for 30 minutes a few times a week. Schools can help out also by incorporating a healthier menu and cutting down on the soda and snack machines.

  26. says

    Jake got it right.. People have become more and more lazy every year, and while EVERY American becoming overweight by 2048 is hard to believe, just look at the pattern. It is human nature to take the road of least resistance. Snake oil salesmen will continue to pitch the ‘cure all’ diet plan that promises the least amount of effort while eating whatever you want, and people will continue to fall for it because of this.

    There will always be some special interest groups crying “foul” pushing to move the BMI index to suit their own needs all in the name of equality and self esteem and personal rights and othe such politically correct horse $H|+.

  27. says

    One study suggests that obesity is the most common health problem among American children and, even worse, the trend of overweight children is increasing rapidly Latinos, Hispanics and African Americans are most affected by the increase in obesity among U.S. population

  28. says

    “The current figure of 66% of overweight and obese adults surprised me.” Your right Mano, this figure seems very high. I would say it would be less, but the problem maybe bigger (pardon the pun) than I realize

  29. says

    According to statistics, it is said that 8 out of 10 are obese people in United States. I think it is a matter of discipline by getting rid of fatty foods, junk foods and do at least simple exercise a day.

  30. says

    People don’t play sports because its fun. Ask any athlete, most of them hate it, but they couldn’t imagine their life with out it. Its part of them, the love/hate relationship. Its what they live for. They live for the practices, parties, cheers, long bus rides, invitationals, countless pairs of different types of shoes, water, Gatorade, & coaches you hate but appreciate. They live for the way it feels when they beat the other team, and knowing those two extra sprints they ran in practice were worth it. They live for the way they become a family with their team, they live for the countless songs they sing in their head while training all those hours. They live for the competition, they live for the friends, the practices, the memories, the pain, its who they are. It’s who we are.

    Webmaster of T101 Horizon Treadmill

    This is a really intersting article to read. It is an informative and interesting, Thank you.

  31. says

    It’s important that we buy and eat fresh, locally grown foods — produced without pesticides, hormones or GMO. This is both a health choice and an economic statement. The more that we educate ourselves on the food we produce, the more likely we are to overcome this tragic and costly epidemic.

  32. says

    its an absolute must that society gets back to organic, why is cancer so prevailent one asks? we just dont know what we are eating…

  33. says

    This is so fascinating to me. I started a low carb eating habit in the beginning of 2011 and have never felt healthier.

    I think it’s not even the low carb that is so good to the body, but rather the return to natural foods altogether.

  34. says

    There really is something to a low carb diet. I have gone from 440lbs to 300 lbs since the beginning of the year. I find protein to be very filling. I also drink a lot of water and do at least an hour on the treadmill every day.

  35. says

    I agree that as long as you are cooking your own food, you are likely to have a healthy diet. It’s a good idea and a great way to live by.

  36. says

    As a person that used to be 343 lbs, and is now 220 lbs, I am still considered obese or overweight, based on my BMI. So essentially, I should be around 170 lbs, again, according to my BMI.

    I feel that there should a) be a better standard way of figuring out if a person is really overweight or obese, and b) it should take into account the activity level, and muscle mass as well.

    The best way to combat obesity is to teach people to eat real food, not the processed stuff that comes out of a box. Teach them how to count calories, and to stop eating empty calories. I now measure almost everything that I put into my body, and I analyze the labels. That should be taught to people while they are still in high school.

    The companies that make our prepared foods should also have a responsibility to make everything as healthy as possible, seeking alternatives to added sugars and empty calories. Their sales would go up if they could keep the taste similar but increase the healthiness of their foods.

  37. says

    I have seen first hand that when children are presented with ONLY healthy choices at a very early age, they will not have an obesity problem later. By the time they see that other children are happily eating junk food, they will have a desire for continuing to eat what they are accustomed to eating.

  38. says

    Yes, they live for the way it feels when they beat the other team, and knowing those two extra sprints they ran in practice were worth it. If they dont learn healthy eating routines and the importance of regular physical activity, in order to lose weight and keep it off, they will become type 2 diabetics..

  39. says

    i agree type 2 diabetes is becoming more of an epidemic. i have never been overweight but my younger brother is very much so. I had a very strict upbringing which did not do me many favours mentally, but im not over weight. my brother got it easy and basically could eat anything he wanted whenever he wanted, he is now overweight. Balance is the key and its not easy.

  40. says

    The weight problem should be tackled from an early age. There should be more education and case studies as to what the food your taking in now does to your body in the long term. When i was growing up i had none of that.

  41. says

    More awareness should be raised about the dangers of the foods we eat. Corn is in practically everything we eat, and contains a lot of sugar. Obesity occurs because we’re no active and consume more calories than we burn.

  42. says

    Obesity is an epidemic that is likely to lead to a decrease in life expectancy of our generation, for the first time in history, compared to previous generations where life expectancy has been increasing due to improved healthcare. Food companies should be forced by law to make healthy foods or probably a “bad food tax” to be introduced to discourage manufacture and consumption of foods that have been associated with obesity.

  43. says

    With the state of attached to obesity this is something that needs all of our attention, and this can be won. The best thing to do is to start at the top being the head. With the right mind-set we can win and win big. When we lose the weight we can win in the end. To keep the mind active and the body in motion and fueled along with the correct rest shall change the whole system, being our bodies, one step at a time.

  44. says

    I think Scott is on the right track. Processed foods are so ubiquitous it’s all too easy to wind up popping an extra few hundred calories a day.
    I agree that as long as you are cooking your own food, you are likely to have a healthy diet. It’s a good idea and a great way to live by.

  45. says

    Very interesting blog post. I agree with the general consensus in the post’s thread that we should become more educated on the subject of diet foods, get into better eating habits and move away from so much of the processed foods that exist in our society today. I very rarely eat processed western style food now. I mostly eat home cooked Chinese,Japanese and Thai dishes.. brown rice,white meats,fish and plenty of fruit and vegetables. I avoid bread, pasta and particularly potatoes, which interestingly enough don’t seem to feature as much in the healthy diets of Asian countries! Perhaps that’s why we don’t see many overweight people in Asia when compared to the US or Australia! I found a good article by a US qualified Nutritionist, on the subject of the best type of diet foods at, http://www.loseweightpromptly.com/top-55-diet-foods/

  46. says

    It’s so sad to read about this. I think many people are too poor to buy good stuff and food. They cannot find the good way to live. So many parents cannot give their children the best.

  47. says

    Being obese increases your risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis and some cancers. If you are obese, losing even 5 to 10 percent of your weight can delay or prevent some of these diseases. Its time to wake up, exercise have a healthy diet its not to late…

  48. says

    Although I fully agree that as a nation the US (and the UK) is becoming more obese. My one slight reservation is that BMI is not a good way of measuring obesity as it doent take into account muscle mass, it simply bases its results on height/weight.