By: Pamela Egan, FNP-C CDE
More than half of America’s adults are obese
There are more than 56 million Americans who are obese. Fifty years ago, that statement would have been unimaginable. But a lot can change in half a century. America in 2004 bears little resemblance to America in 1954.
America’s obesity epidemic is only surpassed by its complexity. Poor diets and a lack of physical exercise bolster the problem, but in modern society one can reasonably argue that without a focused effort on the part of the individual, obesity is really just a side-effect of the modern age.
Obesity and overweight have been linked to the neighborhoods we live in and the choices in the foods we select at the supermarket. Combine these factors with cultural differences and heredity, which may predispose some of us to obesity, and suddenly 56 million seems easier to comprehend.
The potential costs of the obesity epidemic in lost life years of productivity and increased health costs are beyond estimation. If Americans are to become healthier, the impetus for change will likely first come from the medical community.
Healthcare providers are beginning to take a more active role by making recommendations related to health.
Throughout history, it was always the richest people who were the fattest. Calorie-dense foods like beef and cakes and puddings were expensive and not readily available to the masses, whose diets often consisted of the food they grew or raised on farms. Only in the past 150 years or so has this really changed. The industrialized world has largely done away with food shortages, allowing society to achieve plentiful, low-cost, calorie-dense food, readily available in hundreds of thousands of supermarkets and restaurants around the globe.
The over-consumption of these energy rich, low cost foods and beverages are partly to blame for the obesity epidemic. Most Americans know that high-fat foods and high-sugar drinks can pack on the pounds. The idea that the out-of-control consumption of pizza, burgers, candy and soda is a contributing factor in an epidemic that is directly or indirectly killing thousands of people and costing taxpayers billions of dollars is a harder message to swallow.
However, the latest statistics from the CDC show that more than half of American adults and 13 percent of children are clinically overweight or obese. Combine that with the 300,000 obesity-related deaths per year and the $115 billion that it will cost taxpayers to treat patients with obesity-related illnesses this year, and the obesity epidemic is quickly becoming the most prominent health condition in the United States.
Consequently, the problem is now in the hands of politicians, school administrators and trial lawyers nationwide who are devising ways to reverse the weight gain trend and in some cases, assign blame for this runaway epidemic.
Some have suggested that the government could be more aggressive in mandating a reduction of fat in school lunches or proposing tax incentives for businesses that provide on site exercise equipment, but for now the government’s approach appears to be focused on improving obesity education, encouraging a more active lifestyle and providing easier access to nutrition information.
Ultimately consumer pressure may be the force that brings about the greatest change when it comes to offerings from the food and beverage industry. Consumer demand for healthier items will influence product lines.
This article was originally published February 23, 2004 in The St. Tammany News.