Obesity is a growing concern in the United States, affecting more individuals than ever before in history. In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-third of adults and nearly 20 percent of children are obese in the United States. The total number of obese and overweight individuals adds up to 67% of the country!
What is Obesity?
Obesity is best defined according to body mass index (BMI), which measures the ratio of fat to a person’s height and weight. Individuals with a BMI greater than 25 are considered overweight and individuals with a BMI of 30 or greater are considered obese.
Who is Affected?
While anyone can be affected by obesity, research shows that obesity rates tend to be higher for particular groups of people. The CDC found that African-Americans have the highest age-adjusted rates of obesity at 49.5 percent. Other groups, such as Mexican Americans (40.4 percent), Hispanics (39.1 percent) and Whites (34.3 percent) were found to have very high rates of obesity as well.
In addition to ethnicity, obesity is highly linked with socio-economic status in the United States. The CDC reports that women with higher incomes are less likely to be obese than women with low incomes. However, the report also found that among non-Hispanic black and Mexican-American men, those with higher incomes are more likely to be obese.
No relationship between obesity and education was found for men; however, women who completed college were reported less likely to be obese. The report found that between 1988-1994 and between 2007-2008, obesity rates increased in all American adults across all levels of education and income.
Based on data collected in 2012, obesity rates across the United States ranged from 20.5 percent in Colorado to 34.7 percent in Louisiana. The data showed that no state had an obesity rate less than 20 percent. States located in the Midwest and South were found to have higher rates of obesity, at nearly 30 percent.
Conversely, states located in Northeast and West were found to have lower rates of obesity, at approximately 25 percent. In the last decade, obesity rates have spiked dramatically, as data shows that, in 2000, no states had an obesity rate greater than 30 percent. Since then, 13 states have reported obesity rates equal or greater to 30 percent.
Impact on Health
Individuals with obesity are found to have a much higher risk for developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, sleep apnea, and other serious illnesses. Furthermore, obese individuals have had a dramatic impact on medical costs in the United States. Research conducted in 2008 found that the estimated medical cost of obesity was $147 billion. What’s more, the costs break down to $1,429 more for obese individuals than individuals of normal weight.
Obesity can also have a great impact on mental health. A Yale study found that weight is the top reason people are bullied, resulting in low self-esteem, depression and increased risk of suicide. The study also found that more than 70 percent of obese women reported being bullied by a family member regarding her weight.
As obesity has never been more prevalent in the United States, there have been many efforts to lower rates and educate Americans on the harmful effects obesity can have. One of the most notable efforts has been that by First Lady Michelle Obama, who began the “Let’s Move” outreach program as a way to combat and prevent childhood obesity.
At the launch of the program in 2010, she noted the impact obesity has on America as a nation, saying, “The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake.” The program focuses on education, healthy eating and physical activity within families, schools, and communities where children will benefit.
In addition to outreach and education, a Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA+) was created to motivate Americans to maintain regular physical activity and healthy eating. Participants who achieve this goal for 6 out of 8 weeks are qualified to receive the presidential award for their hard work.