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Why Obesity Rates Are Rising Faster Than Ever

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It seems everywhere we turn we hear about obesity. The statistics. The dangers. The effect it has on all areas of one’s life. The annual Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Indexsurvey released this week, which tracks respondents’ self-reported height and weight data, revealed that its tracked national obesity rate has risen to 27.7 percent — up from 25.5 in 2008. Mississippi has the highest obesity rate at 35.2 percent, while Hawaii is the only state where fewer than 1 in 5 residents are obese. And for the first time since 2008, there has been a sharp increase in the number of obese Americans ages 65 and older.

We know weight gain — especially excessive weight gain — is bad, but when you’re surrounded by all-you-can-eat buffets and communities not designed for walking, is there any hope of winning the battle of the bulge? The answer is a resounding yes, and the first step is knowing what obesity is and how it affects all of us.

Obesity: What Is It?

Over the last 25 years, obesity rates have been climbing steadily. While the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index finds 27.7 percent of Americans are obese, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that nearly 35 percent of adults and 18 to 21 percent of children are obese.

In layman’s terms, obesity is carrying enough body fat to put an individual at risk for a variety of ailments including diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, stroke, pulmonary disease, reproductive disorders, osteoarthritis, and cancer, among others. “In short, obesity can affect functioning of all major body organ systems,” says Jennifer Nasser, RD, PhD, assistant professor in the department of biology at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Obesity is typically determined by figuring out an individual’s body mass index (BMI) using a formula that includes his or her height and weight. For an adult, a number of 25 or larger falls in the overweight category, while a value of 30 or more is considered obese.

This formula is not appropriate for children and teens, however. “BMIs for children and teens are age- and gender-specific because the amount of body fat changes with age and growth and differs between boys and girls,” says Rose Clifford, RD, clinical dietitian in the department of pharmacy services at the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. The CDC offers an accurate BMI calculator for those under age 20 with their Child and Teen BMI Calculator.

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