The Obesity Epidemic: Part 1

April 6, 2011 No Comments by Scott Isaacs MD

The obesity epidemic in the US continues to get worse. Most people aren’t really aware of what is happening to the tsunami of obesity and the medical problems that go along with this.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, an additional 2.4 million people become obese from 2007-2009.  Researchers at Harvard predict that obesity rates will reach 42% over the next few years.  By 2020, 75% of Americans will be overweight or obese.  This is a problem that could bankrupt the health care system.

A few decades ago, the average weight gain was a half a pound per year and researchers at the time were alarmed.  Today, the average adult gains one or two pounds each year, over a lifetime.  A survey conducted by Cogent Research found that the average American female is 5 foot, 4 inches and weighs 164 pounds.  This is a BMI of 28, about 40 pounds overweight.  And, half of Americans are more than 40 pounds overweight.

The majority of people who are overweight see no need to lose weight. The IFIC Foundation Food and Health 2010 Survey found that only 23% of obese Americans think they are obese.  77% of obese Americans think they are merely overweight or not overweight at all.  Although 70% of Americans are overweight or obese, a Consumer Reports survey found that only 11% think they are overweight.  The 2010 Deloitte Center for Health Solutions Survey found that 88% of adults think they are in good or excellent health, even though almost half were taking three or more medications for chronic medical problems. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reported in 2010 that although 80% parents believe that obesity is a problem, 84% of these parents don’t think it affects their own children.  50% of the parents of obese children don’t even consider their children overweight.

The obesity epidemic in the United States and worldwide is staggering.  The obesity epidemic is snowballing quicker in North America and Europe than the rest of the world.  A few decades ago, only a small percentage of Europeans were overweight.  Today, half of the adults in Europe are overweight or obese.  The obesity epidemic is expanding throughout the world.  The World Health Organization predicts that by 2015 there will be a 44% increase in the number of overweight people and a 75% increase in the number of obese people.

The New York Times reported that since 1999, there has been a 50% increase in obesity in French men and an 82% increase in French women.  More than a third of children in Europe are overweight or obese.  These rates are similar in America.  The rate of obesity four year old girls in Sweden has increased 600% in the past 20 years.

The number of children who are severely obese is much worse than we had previously thought.  The greatest increase in obesity is in children under the age of ten.  Over half of obese teenage girls and a third of teenage boys will become at least 100 pounds overweight by the age of 30.  In my experience, once an adolescent becomes obese, there is very little hope they can reverse it.  The vast majority go on to gain more weight, developing chronic health problems along the way.  Over 25% of children and teenagers take medication for weight related health conditions like blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes medications.

Researchers estimate that without a major change in lifestyle, these children will reduce their lifespan by 10-20 years and will develop chronic health problems in their 20s.  Almost a third of children and teenagers are overweight or obese.  Since 2006, obesity rates in children have increased 11%.  In the past decade, the number of severely obese 6th graders has doubled.  Experts estimate that about 35% of children are obese or at high risk for becoming obese by 9 months of age.

A study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that children with two obese parents are 12 times more likely to become obese themselves.

The study also found that the mother’s weight had an especially potent influence on their child’s weight.  The Boston Public Health Commission found that only 30% of high school students eat breakfast every day and that more than 15% never eat breakfast.

Stay tuned, next week, I’ll blog more about this issue.

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