If you live an America, all you probably need to do is look around and you will discover that our nation has a high prevalence of obesity. In fact, according to the CDC, 33% of our nation was considered obese in 2004…that is 1 out of every 3 people. The national cost, (both directly from obesity itself and indirectly from diseases resulting from obesity) related to obesity is over $120 billion according to the National Institute of Health…that’s over 10% of our health care costs! This figure does not even include the statistics on loss of productivity as a result from missed work days, etc. It is clear that obesity is a huge issue in our country, and it is time that something be done about it.
What is obesity? Obesity is not the five pounds you want to lose to fit better in your jeans if you are at a healthy weight. The terms “overweight” and “obesity” are determined by a Body Mass Index (BMI) chart. You can calculate your BMI here to get a general idea of your Body Mass Index (keep in mind that if you have a lot of muscle, your data may be slightly incorrect). A BMI of 25.0-29.9 is considered “overweight”, while a BMI of 30.0 or above is considered “obese”.
How does someone become overweight/obese? The CDC actually has a great summary of the various factors that contribute to carrying excess amounts of weight. There is the simple theory, which is of course if you put in more calories then you give out, you will gain weight. While this is true, I feel it is important to take other things into account, such as education linked to socioeconomic status, availability of resources, etc.All one has to do is look at the demographics of who are overweight and obese to get a good sense of the economic disparity that greatly contributes to this epidemic.
Who becomes overweight/obese? Anyone can become overweight or obese, but there are clear trends based on the demographic statistics released by the U.S. Government. People who live in poverty, or are minorities, or are the least educated (all of which typically goes hand in hand) are the most likely to become overweight or obese. I picked out the following charts to better show the discrepancies:
These statistics show me that obesity is not just because of genetics, but because of a clear link between poverty and lack of education and minorities. This further cements my belief that we cannot adequately change health without addressing economics and education as well.
What are the possible effects from obesity? There are many. Health wise, carrying excessive amounts of weight for a long period of time can result in the following diseases:
- hypertension (high blood pressure)
- high cholesterol
- type-2 insulin resistant diabetes
- heart disease
- sleep apnea (temporary choking while sleeping)
- respiratory problems
- various cancers
- gallbladder disease
The body was not designed to carry so much weight, and so it will eventually start breaking down over time. But this is only on a micro-level. Obesity on a macro, national level has some scary statistics as well:
- I have already stated that obesity-related medical costs are over $120 billion. Of this $120 billion, about 1/2 is covered through taxpayers money through the government-funded program Medicare.
- This amounts to about $180 out of pocket costs for every American, every year.
- Productivity loss amounts to just under $4 billion a year
What is the Public Health concern? These statistics keep increasing, and if nothing changes the impact will be even worse. Because it is so greatly linked to education and socioeconomic status, there is hopefully a way that we can reduce this problem. In fact, it is one of the CDC’s goals to reduce obesity to 15% of the population by 2010, although no data has been released to show whether or not that goal is close to being met.
What Can I do to Help…
Myself?: If you are at a healthy weight, maintain it. If you are overweight, start losing. The simplest way to do this is to start exercising and incorporate a healthier diet. If you are so overweight that you cannot lose it on your own, seek help from a physician. They may prescribe certain medications or lifestyle modifications to help you. In drastic cases, they may also suggest certain surgeries like banding or gastric bypass.
My children?: Childhood obesity is just as much of a problem as adult obesity. Over 15% of American children are considered obese. If your child is overweight, start changing their lifestyle right now. Obesity from an early age can have even worse consequences in the future, so it is important to start as soon as possible. Children should have at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Do not rely on school programs to fulfill this, as often many schools do not have adequate P.E. programs. Also, monitor your child’s sugar and fat intake by packing them school lunches and making meals with plenty of fruits and vegetables. In addition, try to limit the amount of television your kids watch daily.
My country? I feel the best way to alleviate this problem is through education. If you are so compelled, find a school, neighborhood, library, doctor’s office, etc who already has a nutrition/obesity program and offer your help. If you do not have the time to do this…start with your family! Promoting healthy living habits is within the home can lead to healthier people in future generations.
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