The True Size of the American Obesity Epidemic

To understand the true magnitude of the American obesity epidemic, we first need to understand what it really means to be overweight. Doctors and nutritionists classify people as either underweight, healthy weight, overweight, or obese. These different classifications are determined by body mass index (BMI), or a measure of body fat based on your height and weight.

To get a basic idea, this chart from the CDC approximates what that means for someone who is 5’9” tall.

Height Weight Range BMI Considered
Source: CDC      
5′ 9″ 124 lbs or less Below 18.5 Underweight
  125 lbs to 168 lbs 18.5 to 24.9 Healthy weight
  169 lbs to 202 lbs 25.0 to 29.9 Overweight
  203 lbs or more 30 or higher Obese

As for what is driving America’s chronic weight problem, there are no definite answers. Scientific studies often reach conflicting conclusions. Many theories are out there, but the preponderance of evidence points to the two causes most people already suspect: too much food and too little exercise.

Bigger portions, confusing “diet” for “nutrition,” and lack of exercise are a deadly combination. Today, each American puts away an average of 195lbs of meat every year, compared to just 138lbs in the 1950’s. Consumption of added fats also shot up by around two thirds over the same period, and grain consumption rose 45% since 1970.

Research published by the World Health Organization found that a rise in fast food sales correlated to a rise in body mass index, and Americans are notorious for their fast-food consumption. It is not just how much we eat, but what we eat.

The role of diet in the obesity epidemic is obviously major, but it’s also complex. Consumers are sent mixed messages when it comes to what to eat and how much. Larger portions, processed packaged food, and drive-thru meals are branded as almost classically American — fast, cheap, filling, and delicious, but yet we spend billions of dollars annually on weight loss schemes.

Lack of exercise is also a major culprit in the obesity epidemic. A far greater majority of us are sitting throughout our workday. According to one study, only 20% of today’s jobs require at least moderate physical activity, as opposed to 50% of jobs in 1960. Other research suggests Americans burn 120 to 140 fewer calories a day than they did 50 years ago. Add this to the higher number of calories we are packing in, and we get a perfect recipe for weight gain.

A number of other factors are thought to play a role in the obesity epidemic, such as the in- utero effects of smoking and excessive weight gain in pregnant mothers. Poor sleep, stress, and lower rates of breastfeeding are also thought to contribute to a child’s long-term obesity risk. Of course, these factors are not explicit or solitary causes of obesity, but they are reliable indicators of the kinds of systemic problems contributing to this crisis.

In the end, though, we can’t lose sight of the big picture. Over the past years, diet fads have come and gone, with people rushing to blame red meat, dairy, wheat, fat, sugar, etc. for making them fat, but in reality, the problem is much simpler. Genetics and age do strongly influence metabolism, but as the CDC points out, weight gain and loss is primarily a formula of total calories consumed versus total calories used.

If you are looking for answers to debilitating obesity and the health issues that often accompany the extra weight, contact VIP Surg at (702) 487-6006. We can help you find the right treatment for your unique situation.

A pair of female feet on a bathroom scale

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