Obesity Epidemic "Astronomical"
The prognosis for the nation is bad and getting worse as obesity takes its toll on the health of adults and children alike.
One of the biggest health stories of the year has been the rise
in obesity among both adults and children in the U.S. We've all heard so much
about the "obesity epidemic" that it's easy to think the story is being
blown out of proportion. After all, people putting on a few pounds may not seem
to warrant the proclamation of a national emergency.
But while obesity may not be the Black Death, it is a severe
public health crisis. Experts agree that as more and more obese children become obese
adults, the diseases associated with obesity, such as heart disease, cancer, and
especially diabetes will surge. That will
mean a lot of sick people.
According to Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, chair of the department
of nutrition and food studies at New
York University, the costs of these illnesses will be
James O. Hill, PhD, agrees. Hill, director of the Center for
Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, claims
that at the rate we're going, obesity-related diabetes alone "will break
the bank of our healthcare system."
So one has to wonder how obesity got so out of control that we
reached this crisis. And more importantly, how do we stop it?
So what's causing the epidemic? Not surprisingly, everyone
agrees that it stems from two things: eating too much and exercising too
little. The differences are in the specifics.
Although people may toss around the idea of genetics in
obesity, genes can't really explain what's happening, Hill says. While a person
may have a genetic predisposition toward a certain body type, the fact that
each succeeding generation is heavier than the last proves that changes in our
environment are playing the key role.
Hill believes the culprit may be a decrease in our physical
activity, arguing that because of shifts in how we live and work, we don't get
as much exercise as previous generations did.
Nestle agrees that exercise is important, but she lays more
stress on eating habits. In her book Food Politics: How the Food Industry
Influences Nutrition and Health, Nestle argues that recommendations about
healthy eating are overwhelmed by the hundreds of billions of dollars worth of
advertising for junk foods that we're subjected to at home and even in public
schools. And as fast food companies and chains compete with one another by
increasing portion sizes, our waists are increasing proportionately.
Despite the new attention paid to obesity by doctors,
researchers, and the media, no discernable progress has been made in fighting
obesity. According to most experts, it looks almost certain that obesity will
get worse before it gets better.
Cynthia Ogden, PhD, a CDC epidemiologist, published the results
of a study of weight in the United States that she conducted with other
experts. The results were startling: 31% of adults are obese and 15% of
children and teenagers age 6-19 are overweight. The proportion of obese people
has been growing steadily for the last few decades. Although Ogden stresses
that obesity is a problem for all groups and genders, it is particularly severe
among certain ethnic groups. For instance, 50% of all non-Hispanic black women
Did Ogden see anything promising in the results of the study
about obesity in the U.S.? "I didn't see any hopeful signs," she