The Growing Obesity Epidemic: We’re fat, we’re fat, we know it, we’re fat…

2009-07-05 | |
Last updated: 2009-07-05

Though the results from a recently published report highlighting the increase in US obesity are not surprising, the numbers tell us that we have a big and growing problem that may weigh on our health systems for a number of years. Fat-related wording aside, when we look at ourselves and around at our fellow Americans, 2 in 3 of us are overweight or obese and these results are getting worse year over year.

One of the most disturbing numbers from the report was that almost 1 in 3 people in the state of Mississippi was obese and worse still was that almost 1 of every 2 children in the state aged 10 to 17 was obese. The report highlighting these results was produced by the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). What is so scary about these numbers is that without some intervention, within 5 to 10 years, these children will be adults who will be pushing up the rate of obesity significantly.

While Mississippi was mentioned both for topping the scales this year and for having had the worst record for the four preceding years, it is sadly not the odd man out, but is one of many states with a similar obesity epidemic. Across the US, the average is still at an unhealthy level with roughly 1 in 5 adults being obese, not to mention the many others who are overweight. Sadly, the US has the highest rate of obesity in the world and within 5 years, is projected to have an obesity rate of more than 40%.

As the country in the world with what is already the highest health care spending per person at 17% of GDP, the US cannot afford the increased financial burden that will come with a 50% increase in obesity rates from 2007 to 2015. Based on the 2003 estimates of $75 billion in obesity-related medical costs from the Centers for Disease Control, the health care costs from obesity-induced conditions will be $125 billion in roughly 5 years. Clearly without a newly formulated comprehensive plan, the US government and citizens will experience considerable pain.

Financial considerations aside, the members of the ever increasing “Army of the Obese” will face the increased risks of dying that come with carrying the extra weight. Cancers of the esophagus, thyroid gland, colon, kidney and gall bladder are all significantly higher for those who are obese. Diabetes, heart disease, and stroke are also problems that the obese will more likely face than those who can keep from gaining the weight.

While we can try to place the blame on each individual for their weight problems and individually tell them what they should do to fix the problem, in reality, the scope of this situation and its rate of growth have made it an epidemic. Any other epidemic or pandemic such as the H1N1 flu that we are now seeing warrants a national campaign with appropriate funding and a set of concrete actions to both gain control of the situation and to correct it.

Every one of us who is overweight or obese should be considered by our doctor as a patient who needs treatment. Pamphlets should be delivered door to door outlining the problem and the risks. Classes in schools should educate each and every child. The position of “Fat Czar” should be created by the federal government to oversee the program of thinning up the American population. These actions just might communicate the seriousness of the problem facing our population.

Though some will see these suggestions as heavy handed, the reality is that the US faces a crisis that needs a coordinated national response. An important economic and social problem needs to be changed for the greater benefit of the country and its citizens. This is what governments are there for, why we hate them and why we need them; they can make policies that we do not like and make us live by them.

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