America is Shattering Records for Obesity

June 23rd 2015

Nicole Charky

For the first time, Americans who are obese outnumber Americans who are overweight, according to a new JAMA Internal Medicine study.

From 2007 to 2012, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis researchers studied data from 15,208 people, ages 25 and older, who represented the national population.

What they found was that 75 percent of men and 67 percent of women are overweight or obese, meaning that 67.6 million Americans over the age of 25 were obese as of 2012, and 65.2 million were overweight. The data was collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. It shows a significant increase in the U.S. over the past 20 years. The last similar study, conducted from 1988 to 1994, estimated that 63 percent of men and 55 percent of women were overweight or obese.

Using height and weight information, the NHANES data calculated body mass index (BMI) and found that a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered normal. Someone with a BMI ranging from 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, and a BMI over 30 qualifies a person as obese.

Research found women were more likely to be obese than overweight, with 37 percent overweight and 30 percent obese. For men, 35 percent were obese, and 40 percent were overweight, meaning three out of four men in the U.S. exceed a normal weight.

The group with the greatest increase in the most obese category was non-Hispanic, Black women, according to the study.

Obesity is linked to several, serious health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, depression, and in some cases, an increased risk of death. As people continue to struggle with unhealthy eating habits and lifestyles, there is a growing movement to combat the obesity problem. Michelle Obama launched the 'Let's Move' campaign in 2010 to encourage kids to eat well and exercise, and the FDA eliminated trans fats in foods last week. Banning trans fats, which are found in a wide variety of popular foods like frostings, frozen pizzas, cookies, and coffee creamers, from Americans' diets could prevent as many as 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease every year. The announcement caps a decades-long lobbying struggle by consumer advocates to ban trans fats, a stance backed with stacks of damning scientific evidence.

Obesity is affecting both kids and adults.

Since the 1970s, the number of obese adults and children has doubled, according to the Food Research and Action Center.

"We see this as a wake-up call to implement policies and practices designed to combat overweight and obesity, to implement what we already know into place to accelerate the obesity prevention and treatment," study author Lin Yang, post-doctoral researcher in the Division of Public Health Sciences at Washington University School of Medicine, told CBS News. "Population-based strategies may help to alter the obesity trend through physical environment interventions, enhancing primary care efforts, and shifting society norms of behavior."

Individual and policy changes can help efforts to decrease the number of people who struggle with obesity or are overweight. Adding bikes lanes and more pedestrian-friendly areas in cities encourages more physical activity. Using the stairs instead of taking an elevator is a good thing as well.

Related: Why You Can't "Exercise Away" Obesity

The U.S. needs better, healthy food policies that help curb weight gain for diets of both children and adults, Yang explained. One growing issue is the connection between poverty and obesity. In fact, a 2011 CDC study found that people with an annual income of less than or equal to $27,269 were 1.2 times more likely to not have access to healthier food retailers.

"We also know food choice and consumption contribute greatly to excess intake and then overweight and obesity," she said. "Not everyone has accessibility to affordable, healthy food. This needs to be addressed on a national and then local level."

Preventative care

One way to help solve the country's obesity epidemic is by helping children develop good habits early on that allow them to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. This type of preventative care can, in the future, reduce adult obesity and cut down on healthcare costs, according to a study by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. The study examined the costs and benefits of four proposed policy changes aimed at reducing childhood obesity:

  1. Placing an excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.
  2. Ending the tax write-off for advertising on children’s television.
  3. Increasing moderate to vigorous physical activity in schools.
  4. Fostering healthier habits (more physical activity, better nutrition, and less screen time) in preschool settings.

By applying these methods, the study found that each approach did have a positive effect, and two of them were particularly helpful in lowering a child's BMI: an excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and eliminating the tax subsidy for children's television advertising.

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