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.
An increasingly common treatment for severe obesity is
bariatric surgery, such as "stomach stapling" in which the size of the
stomach is surgically reduced. It's gotten a high profile as some obese
celebrities and public figures have undergone the procedure with dramatic
results. It's even becoming more common among teenagers. While bariatric
surgery is necessary and life-saving in some cases, is it a reasonable
treatment for obesity in America?
"Surgery is an effective last resort," says Dietz,
"and many people are so obese, with a body mass index over 40, that they're
at the last resort stage."
However, if obesity continues to worsen, so many people will
require surgery that it will become impossible to operate on all of them.
"It's difficult for me to see how we'll be able or willing to perform
surgery on 100 million Americans," says Hill. Instead, the only real answer
is in preventing people from getting to the point of surgery in the first
The Problems With Prevention
As with other public health campaigns, such as the efforts to
get people to stop smoking or to practice safe sex, results of the campaign
against obesity will come gradually. But Dietz sees reason for hope.
"I think that in the last three years, we've seen a
dramatic shift in the attitudes of policy makers toward obesity," Dietz
tells WebMD. "There is now a huge amount of attention being paid to the
condition," he says, and that's an important first step.
But analogies to other public health efforts can only go so
far, and obesity looks to be a difficult opponent. "Personally, I think
that obesity may be the toughest social issue that we have ever faced,"
says Hill, "even more so than smoking."
Part of the problem is that the message about eating well is
necessarily more complicated than the messages of other health campaigns. The
recommendations for preventing tobacco-related illnesses are pretty
straightforward: Don't smoke. But given that "don't eat" is not an
option, there isn't such a concise recommendation for eating well and staying
fit. It's more like, "Eat plenty of these, and not so much of that or
those, and remember to exercise a lot."