The Obesity Epidemic in America

By Sherry Baker @SherryNewsViews
March 03, 2023
The Obesity Epidemic in America

Americans are fatter than ever, putting themselves at risk for serious health problems and boosting the cost of healthcare.

Technically, an epidemic involves a sudden and usually unexpected increase in cases of an infectious disease, like COVID-19. But, although obesity is not contagious, medical experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) describe it as an epidemic — and it’s spreading at an alarming rate, putting the health of millions of Americans in danger.

NIH and CDC warnings that being overweight raises the risk of potentially serious medical woes haven’t slowed down the weighty problem. Doctors telling countless patients they need to get weight under control hasn’t worked. And hundreds of books and diet plans supposedly explaining how to drop excess pounds easily haven’t made a dent in the increasing girth of Americans.

The bottom line: The U.S. has a big, fat problem.


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Studies, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), analyzed data compiled on 5,455 adults and 7,017 youngsters from the CDC’s ongoing National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The findings were clear. The U.S. obesity rate is worsening, and Americans are fatter than ever.

Nearly one in three Americans are overweight; another 42 percent are obese. More than 9 percent of adults are severely obese. On average, American adults have gained 15 or more extra pounds since the late l980s and early l990s.

The second study revealed some good news — there’s been a significant decline in obesity in kids between the ages of two and five. More older kids still had a weight problem.

About one in five older U.S. children and teens are obese, and nearly 6 percent are in the morbidly obese range. By the time youngsters reach age 11, the researchers found girls weigh 7 pounds more than girls the same age weighed two decades ago, and boys weigh a whopping 13.5 pounds more than their counterparts did about 20 years ago.

In all, roughly two of three adults and one in three children and teens in the U.S. are overweight or obese, according to CDC statistics.

Obesity can shorten life and increases the risk of health problems, such as:

Mental illnesses, including clinical depression and anxiety, are more common in the significantly overweight, too, according to the CDC.

Being overweight or obese typically leads to more doctor visits, diagnostic tests, medications, and other treatments — spiking insurance and other healthcare costs. You’re more likely to miss days at work, have less productivity on the job, or become disabled. You may end up dying prematurely, too.

It’s true treatments for diseases linked to being overweight keep many people functioning and living longer — for now. But with more and more Americans heavier than ever and suffering increasingly from multiple health conditions caused in large part by their weight, medical technology can only do so much to extend their lives, according to Harvard University and Boston Children’s Hospital endocrinologist David S. Ludwig, MD, PhD.

In a JAMA article, Ludwig warns life expectancy from obesity-related chronic diseases could reverse decades-long improvements in longer life spans.

When an infectious disease epidemic is identified, scientists and doctors can usually halt it with medications and vaccines already available or they work on developing new treatments. But, when it comes to the U.S. obesity epidemic, facts and figures show it’s spreading year by year, and there’s no vaccine or “magic bullet” pill to slow it down.

Don’t expect that to change, either. No new weight control drugs and surgical procedures will solve the problem, according to Howard Bauchner, MD, editor-in-chief of JAMA, and Jody W. Zylke, MD, senior editor of JAMA. In an editorial, they note research into genetics may help — but it will take many years to find out.

(Some weight-loss drugs on the market may help, but they don't change your appetite and people can regain weight, as with dieting.)

For now, they urge paying more attention to obesity prevention in childhood and even before birth. Childhood obesity has been linked to maternal obesity, Bauchner and Zylke pointed out — so women should work with their doctors to maintain a healthy weight during pregnancy and afterwards.

Even when families are motivated to eat a healthy diet, it is often difficult for parents juggling work, home, and other obligations to find time to prepare nutritious meals. The result can be serving too many high calorie fast foods and restaurant meals — especially the “all you can eat” type — that contribute to excess weight, the JAMA doctors said.

What can Americans do to fight the obesity epidemic? Taking as much individual responsibility as possible to control your weight, and that of your children, is the best weapon that’s available right now.

The CDC offers information on how exercise is key to achieving a healthy weight, nutritious eating strategies to lose weight, and tips for parents to help your children maintain a healthy weight.


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March 03, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN