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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.
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WebMD Feature

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 "astronomical."

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?

The Causes

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.

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