Fast-food chains are on every corner. Doctors stop talking about weight to avoid losing patients who aren’t ready to hear the truth. There’s a problem in America: More Americans are becoming obese – and something has to be done about it.
CNN recently released a report to say that if America as a whole does not adopt healthier eating habits, more than half the country will be obese within the next 10 years.
Approximately one in four Americans will be identified as “severely obese,” maintaining a body mass index (BMI) over 35, meaning that they will be a minimum of 100 pounds overweight.
This alarming prediction was published by NEJM following a study that explored BMI data self-reported by six million American adults.
Considering how many people battle weight loss challenges, this is not saying much for the future health of our country.
The chair of Public Health and Community Medicine by Tufts University, Aviva Must, says that obesity is difficult to treat once it has been established, creating an “untenable situation.” She explains that the cost to society is high in terms of healthcare expenditures as well as obesity-related health consequences.
The state-by-state data is alarming, identifying that 29 states, particularly those in the South and Midwest, will experience the largest growth of obesity, with over half of their population being labeled as obese.
Zachary Ward, the lead author as well as an analyst at the Center for Health Decision Science of Harvard Chan School says that the more concerning aspect is the rise in severe obesity. This will become the most common BMI category in the future.
As of right now, only 18% of Americans are identified as severely obese. If this trend continues, severe obesity will become as prevalent as general obesity was throughout the 1990s. Certain subpopulations are more likely to become severely obese than others.
Those who are at the greatest risk include low-income adults making less than $50,000 per year as well as women and non-Hispanic black adults. Additionally, severe obesity will be seen as the most common BMI category in 44 states within the subpopulation of very low-income adults making less than $20,000 in annual household income. This means that the problem will creep into every corner of the United States.
Things have changed drastically in the past 50 years. Obesity was considered a rare condition. Those who were poor were generally underweight, not overweight.
There are a number of reasons for this shift. There is an increase in ultra-processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages. It enables people to consume a significant amount of calories without achieving a proper level of nutrition. The price of food is another contributing factor – it’s cheaper to eat unhealthy fast food than it is to eat healthy food. Further, there are limited options for physical activity depending upon where a person lives.
The problem can be fixed, but it will take a number of policy interventions and regulations to make an impact. Individual behavior change alone is not going to solve the problem, particularly in an environment that promotes obesity.
Some studies have been conducted to show promising tactics. This includes encouraging walking instead of driving, keeping schools open over the summer and on weekends to provide access to gyms, and increasing support in farm to school programs. Calorie labeling at restaurants and replacing traditional vending machines with smart snacks can also be positive interventions.
Word has said that they’ve also looked at eliminating the tax deduction that businesses get for advertising unhealthy food to children. Any money spent on advertising foods can be used as a tax deduction right now. With such disparities seen by race, income, and ethnicity, it’s no wonder why companies directly target some of these groups.
Obesity may be a rising issue but it’s one that can be addressed if enough regulations are put in place. Rather than allowing the large corporations to keep making decisions for the legislature, it’s time that the Dems and Republicans put their differences aside and fight to keep Americans healthy. Prevention is a better method of fixing the problem than it is to treat obesity. Sugary beverages are one of the biggest culprits, and it starts by educating the younger generations.
When the government gets involved to reduce cheese, reduce sugar, and require whole grain products, it can make a difference. It’s just a matter of getting the buy-in for everyone to agree that it’s a problem that needs to be addressed.