We often hear that Americans are overweight. It is a situation that the media and many health experts cite as an epidemic, one that affects both the adult and childhood populations. The concern stems from estimates that nearly two-thirds of the American population is overweight and nearly a third of them are actually obese. These concerns have resulted in an array of actions from the removal of trans fat from hundreds of grocery store and fast food menu items to campaigns for fitness.
However, there are sources, such as this article from Scientific American, that suggest the concern over obesity in America may be exaggerated. It certainly can be difficult to interpret the data regarding obesity, which is generally collected based on Body Mass Index (BMI), a figure calculated based on height, weight, and age. An individual with a Body Mass Index higher than 30 is considered to be obese, however, considering the fact that muscle weighs more than fat, it is difficult to know how accurate the calculations are. Still, health experts are concerned.
How big of a problem is obesity in America? The most recent calculations show that America leads all other countries with just over 30% of the population categorized as obese and nearly an additional third as being overweight. In comparison to the United Kingdom, who comes in at 23% and Canada, whose obese population makes up just over 14% of the total, it would appear that weight is a concern in America.
These concerns are underscored by the health problems that doctors say are associated with obesity, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. According to statistics published by The Obesity Society, hypertension, or high blood pressure, is directly linked to BMI and studies estimate that well over half the cases of hypertension in adults may be attributable to obesity.
Adults are not the only portion of the population that have experienced weight issues. Since 1970, the percentage of overweight children ages 6 to 19 has tripled and was estimated to be 15% in 2000. Being overweight is reported to be the most common, prevalent nutritional disorder of US children and adolescents and a growing problem according to pediatricians. It is believed that there are a number of factors contributing to overweight children, with sedentary activity and poor eating habits being amongst the leading factors.
“Screen time” is a newer term coined as the amount of time a person spends in front of a computer or television screen, which means they are physically inactive. Children rack up screen time hours at home and at school and more and more screen-based activities lure children away from outdoor play. The video game industry has received its fair share of the blame and subsequently earned itself millions in attempts to redeem itself. The development of games that are conducive to movement, such as dancing, jumping, and even striking yoga poses has taken shape and caught on, though it remains to be seen to what degree this helps the situation.
As if the lack of physical activity weren’t concerning enough, recent attention to budget cuts in public schools resulting in the removal of physical education classes and the implementation of pay to play sports have many parents concerned and working harder to make physical activity an every day part of their children’s lives.
Regardless of age, weight problems are seen plaguing Americans as evidenced by the number of advertisements viewed on television and in other media outlets. Recent product developments geared towards those with weight loss and fitness goals in mind stretch far beyond the traditional diet plans. The newer trends lean towards healthier eating, such as replacing traditionally fatty foods like french fries with fresh fruit or yogurt and baking or grilling meat instead of frying. Yet many people struggle with knowing the difference between foods that sound healthy and foods that are actually lower in fat and calories – making it difficult to know what the recommended 2000-calorie diet should look like.
Still other products and trends are geared towards healthy lifestyles and activities. An onslaught of exercise systems from yoga to Pilates to belly dancing has captured the attention of thousands of people in recent years, gyms of all forms and price ranges have popped up across the country, and still Americans struggle with weight. A struggle large enough to warrant a growing number of surgical alterations to reduce weight.
Surgical weight loss encompasses a number of different procedures, all of which are designed to help people permanently lose weight. These procedures are typically reserved only for the morbidly obese, which is defined as having a BMI higher than 40, or just over 5% of the US population. According to a 2005 report from The Journal of the American Medical Association, the estimated number of bariatric surgical procedures increased from 13,365 in 1998 to 72,177 in 2002.
Weight problems pertaining to being overweight are said to be resolvable by a combination of diet and exercise. It is difficult to find actual research data that reflects how many American people follow a daily exercise regimen, let alone participate in some type of physical activity daily. Compared to the rest of the modern world, it is probably significantly lower. Americans typically drive to and from their destinations, take escalators or elevators instead of stairs, and work longer hours, making it difficult to find time to exercise or engage in physical activity. These lifestyle habits are only compounded by screen time and a possible false sense of security in 0 trans fat food products.
As the debate amongst experts regarding the causes of obesity, the health complications associated with them, and the social and economical implications continue, Americans continue to battle their weight issues. Though many people are comfortable with their weight and their level of physical activity, many others, not just in America, but worldwide, struggle privately with diet and exercise; a struggle that often loses out to conveniences in food, transportation, and entertainment. Meanwhile, the American government continues to invest in research and studies obesity trends, implementing what rules and regulations it can for a population that has experienced difficulty acting on information alone.