The Obesity Epidemic

What is the “Obesity Epidemic?”
According to the Surgeon General’s recent “call to action,” obesity has reached nationwide epidemic proportions. Obesity is defined as an excess of total body fat, a result of imbalance between caloric intake and energy expenditure. In 1999, an estimated 61 percent of U.S. adults were overweight, along with 13 percent of children and adolescents. Obesity among adults has doubled since 1980, while the number of overweight adolescents has tripled. Increases in obesity are associated with dramatic increases in conditions such as type 2 diabetes and asthma. In addition, a recent study reported that obesity causes more deleterious effects on health than either smoking or problem drinking. The increase in chronic health conditions caused by obesity is similar to that seen in 20 years of aging.

Obesity can be a degenerative and debilitating disease. The National Institutes of Health reports that obesity substantially increases the risk of morbidity and mortality from:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes (type 2)
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Sleep apnea
  • Cancer
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Joint problems

Among individuals who are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, 46 percent are obese. Among those with high blood pressure, 38 percent of men and 32 percent of women are obese. And of those diagnosed with high blood cholesterol, 20 percent of men and 25 percent of women are obese. According to the American Obesity Association, obese individuals have a 50 percent to 100 percent increased risk of death compared to individuals of normal weight, with obesity reportedly causing over 120,000 deaths each year. This substantial increase in health risks has made obesity the second leading cause of preventable death in the United States.

How many people in the US are considered obese?
During the past 20 years, obesity among adults has risen significantly in the United States. The National Center for Health Statistics demonstrates that 30 percent of the adult U.S. population (over 60 million people) is obese.
This epidemic is not limited to adults. The number of young people overweight has more than tripled since 1980. Among children and teens a 16 percent are considered obese.  Obesity is now one of the leading causes of early, preventable death among U.S. adults.

What is BMI and why is it important?
There are a number of ways to define and calculate obesity. Currently, the most universally accepted definition is defined by BMI (body mass index). An individual’s BMI is simply their weight in kilograms divided by their height in meters squared. Once calculated the BMI is a two digit number. This number is then compared to a per-established “normal” BMI, in the range of 20-25.  Insurance companies use BMI to determine the eligibility of a patient for bariatric surgery.

Why is obesity such a growing problem?
There certainly isn’t a clear answer to this problem, but our opinion is that the food service industry has done a tremendous job aggressive marketing a wider variety of high fat, high carbohydrate foods to Americans.  If you consider the grocery store of the 70’s and 80’s, your neighborhood A&P had between 5,000-10,000 different items to choose from.  Today’s Super Markets can have as may as 100,000 different items in every possible combination of size, packaging and taste to ensure that there’s something on that shelf that appeals to you.  The food service industry has borrowed some of the lessons from the tobacco industry and are targeting our children at a very young age (consider the number of fast food restaurants that have playgrounds) to ensure the long term success of their marketing strategy.