Obesity Problems in the United States

Obesity is not only the biggest health concern in the United States, but in growing numbers around the world. In America and globally segments of society that were once never included in obese statistics are now part of the mix. This escalates every year at an increasingly alarming rate and unfortunately the United States has the highest obesity rates in the world, with 74.1% of adults being overweight or obese. It’s a cold hard fact almost two-thirds of the American population is overweight and half of them have graduated into full-blown obesity.

Obesity in America

Latest Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index

Estimates of the number of obese American adults have expanded from 19.4% to 26.6% in 2007. The staggering direct medical costs topped the charts at $61 billion while indirect economic loss is a whopping $117 billion in 2000. Obesity rates have increased across the board in all population demographics in the United States over the last several decades. The prevalence of severe obesity quadrupled from one in two hundred Americans to one in fifty while extreme obesity in adults increased by a factor of five, from one in two thousand to one in four hundred. The most dramatic increases have been in children and adolescents, nearly tripling over the same period. About nine million children over age six are classified as obese. Numerous warnings from the American Heart Association, National Institute for Health and Center for Disease Control and Prevention have released numerous warnings about obesity. Things haven’t been moving in a positive direction. Two decades ago the incidence of being overweight in adults was just 50% and rates for kids were one third of today’s figures.

Obesity would not be such a big problem if it was just about appearance. Being overweight puts great amounts of pressure on the body. Obesity is known for causing dangerous medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, infertility, gallbladder disease and cancer to name a few.

Obesity isn’t entirely based on weight; a 200 pound (90 kilograms) man is not always overweight. Obesity or being overweight is based on factors like age, sex and height. A person who is overweight means that his weight is above what is considered healthy.

Age Groups

Traditionally, adults have been most at risk for obesity, but in the last two decades children and adolescents are the fastest rising groups with 15 to 20 percent now- officially obese. What’s alarming is that with these statistics, our nation’s youth are now bringing a level of serious health risks to adulthood long before their parents had, setting up a scenario for a population segment already on dangerous ground. It’s estimated that almost 25 percent of our youth are either overweight or obese. Looking at the long-term consequences, overweight adolescents have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults, and that increases to 80 percent if one or more parent is overweight or obese.

As a person ages, metabolic processes slow down, making it more difficult for older people to maintain their weight. An understanding on how aging affects the body and a proper diet could go a long way in avoiding obesity and other medical disorders.

Anti Obesity Efforts

Under pressure from parents and anti-obesity advocates, many school districts have banned sodas, junk foods and candy from vending machines and cafeterias. State legislators in California passed laws that ban selling machine-dispensed snacks and drinks in elementary schools in 2003 – despite objections by the California-Nevada Soft Drink Association.

In 2006, the American Beverage Association agreed to a voluntary ban on the sale of all high-calorie drinks in elementary, middle and high schools.

The American First Lady Michelle Obama is leading an initiative to combat childhood obesity entitled “Let’s Move.” Mrs. Obama says she aims to wipe out obesity “in a generation.” Let’s Move! has partnered with other programs.

The fastest growing fast-food chain is now Subway, whose menu offers a proportionately larger selection of healthier foods low in fat, carbohydrates and salt.

The diet/exercise industry continues to boom with high-profile TV ads and infomercials selling exercise videos equipment and the more drastic surgical options, such as gastric bypass and lap band procedures.

“Americans spend an estimated $40 million a year on weight-loss programs and products. Clearly the diet industry continues to boom, as the consumer market is flooded with books, pills, gadgets and fads all to tantalize our fantasies our achieving that “perfect" size." Bloomberg Businessweek

Medical Costs

A marked rise in obesity-related medical issues includes Type II diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and a host of other disabilities. Diabetes has become the seventh leading cause of death in the United States,with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimating that fifty-seven million adults aged twenty and older were pre-diabetic in 2008; 23.6 million were diabetic, with 90–95% of the latter were Type II. Obesity has also been shown to increase the prevalence of complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

Obesity has been recognized as a major contributing factor to about 100,000–400,000 deaths in the United States per year and increasing health care use and expenditures, costing an estimated $117 billion in direct (preventive, diagnostic, and treatment services) and indirect (absenteeism, loss of future wages due to early death) costs. This far outstrips costs associated with smoking or drinking issues, accounting for 6% to 12% of national health care expenditures in the United States.

BMI (Body Mass Index)

Obesity is defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health. A crude population measure of obesity is the body mass index (BMI), a person’s weight (in kilograms) divided by the square of his or her height (in meters). A person with a BMI of 30 or more is generally considered obese. A person with a BMI equal to or more than 25 is considered overweight. (World Health Organization)

BMI or the Quetelet Index is a simple tool for determining if a person has a healthy height to weight ratio. This does not represent the actual percentage of fat in a person’s body but gives an estimate if a person is overweight, normal or underweight. BMI is computed by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by his height in meters. The result is then compared to a chart which shows normal ranges for a person’s height.

A person is found to be in his optimal weight range if results are found to be between 18.5 and 25. People who are below 18.5 are said to be underweight, eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa are considered for some whose BMI score is 17.5 or less. BMI scores which are above 25 are considered overweight and results more than 30 are found to be obese.

It is important to understand that BMI is not an accurate indicator of a person’s state of health. Other factors may affect a person’s weight must also be taken into consideration. People with high bone density and athletes with a highly developed physique are found to be above normal BMI levels, but are perfectly normal.

Here is the formula for computing BMI:

BMI = Weight (kilograms)/ Height2 (meters)

  • It is important that units of measurement like weight (pounds to kilograms) and height (feet to meters) should be converted first for accurate results.


  • Starvation less than 16.5
  • Underweight from 16.5 to 18
  • Normal from 18.5 to 25
  • Overweight from 25 to 30
  • Obese Class I from 30 to 35
  • Obese Class II from 35 to 40
  • Obese Class III 40 and above

What Causes Obesity?

Why is this happening? The obvious reason is that we’re simply eating too many calories. Lifestyle is the leading cause of obesity today. Attitudes towards the food we consume and towards exercise have created the problem it is today.

It is always important to find a balance in everything. Eating should be balanced by physical activity. Obesity is often caused by eating large amounts of food and living a sedentary lifestyle. Some people maintain their weight by living an active lifestyle through sports activity or working out in a gym.

Environmental factors also influence obesity. Workplaces and long work hours requiring an individual to sit for long periods of time increase the risk for obesity. Infrastructures and equipment which promote a lazy attitude such as elevators also influence attitudes towards health and physical exertion. Advertisements promoting unhealthy foods tend to condition our minds into believing it’s okay to consume high-fat diets.

Genetics or a family history of obesity is also an indicator that one might be at risk. Metabolic disorders which determine how much and how fast your body breaks down certain types of food may be passed down from your parents.

Medical conditions such as metabolic disorders or hormonal abnormalities may cause abnormal weight gain. Some digestive disorders also increase your risk for obesity.

Taking medicines like corticosteroids and anti-depressants can lead to abnormal weight gain. These medicines affect the rate at which your body burns calories as well as water retention factors that contribute to weight gain.

Psychological conditions affecting a person’s appetite can increase a person’s food intake. Some people turn to eating when upset or stressed out. Over time, eating becomes a reaction towards stressful situations, subconsciously fueling excessive food intake.

The aforementioned aging factor is one that cannot be changed. Greater care in maintaining weight as one ages is essential for a longer quality of life.

Lifestyle Changes

Obesity is a lifestyle disease. As with any other disease which is mainly due to poor diets and unhealthy lifestyles, discipline and information is the best way of preventing these diseases. Successful government campaigns against smoking and drunk driving has increased national consciousness and about those issues. A more aggressive campaign spotlighting obesity could certainly pave the way to reducing the number of Americans found to be overweight and preventing future generations from suffering the same fate.

Written by Ronald Uy, RN

© 2009 H.I.C. Digestive Health


  1. Wikipedia: Obesity (4/18/11)
  2. Center for Disease Control (3/1/11):
  3. Wikipedia: “Obesity in the United States (4/18/11):
  4. CBS News (2/11/09):

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