Compared to the Rest of the World
Obesity can be defined as a condition that is associated with the accumulation of excess of body fat to the extent that it expresses the potential to have adverse health affects. If a person's bodyweight is at least twenty percent higher than what is healthy, that person can be described as obese. Although there is currently no flawless method to measuring obesity, the most reliable and commonly used obesity indicator is the body mass index (BMI), a statistical measurement derived from an adult's height and weight. Its method of calculation is depicted in the following formula:
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an adult with a Body Mass Index between 18.5 and 24.9 is generally healthy. An adult with a Body Mass Index of below 18.5 is considered underweight, an adult with a Body Mass Index of between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight, and a person with a Body Mass Index of over 30 is considered obese. Obesity can be classified into three categories, governed by Body Mass Index: severe obesity (35-40), morbid obesity (40-45), and super obesity (45+).
Body Mass Index is a useful indicator for the average person'. This method does have one major inability, however. Despite it being considered a useful way to estimate obesity, it can be occasionally misleading, because it cannot measure the percentage of body fat (What is Obesity?). For instance, a muscular person may have a high Body Mass Index, but have much less fat than an unfit or ?out of shape' person who's Body Mass Index is lower. In addition, measuring obesity, with the Body Mass Index method, in children and adolescents aged 5 to 16 is challenging, because normal differences in body fat between boys and girls of different ages must be taken into account. Another less-common method used to measure a person's obesity is waist circumference. For females, a waist circumference of 35 inches or greater is considered unhealthy. For men, a waist circumference of 40 inches or greater is considered unhealthy. (Obesity Action Coalition >> What is Obesity?). Other methods of estimating obesity include measurements of skinfold thickness, calculation of waist-to-hip circumference ratios, and techniques such as ultrasound, computed tomography, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Overweight and obese individuals are at an increased risk for many diseases and health condition, that often leads to a decreased quality of life for those affected, such as:
- Coronary Heart Disease
- Type 2 Diabetes: Among those diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, 67 percent have a BMI of 27 or greater and 46 percent have that of 30 or greater. West Virginia has the highest rate of diabetes at 14.1 percent. Nine of the 10 states with the highest diabetes rates are in the South. (Obesity Rates & Trends.). The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) projects that one-in-three adults could have diabetes by 2050.
- Cancer: In both and women, higher BMI is associated with higher death rates from cancers of the esophagus, colon and rectum, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, and kidney. The same trend applies to cancers of the stomach and prostate in men, and cancers of the breast, uterus, cervix, and ovaries in women. Almost half of post-menopausal women diagnosed with breast cancer have a BMI greater than 29. One study indicates (the Nurses' Health Study) women who gain more than 20 pounds from age 18 to midlife double their risk of breast cancer, compared to women whose weight remained stable. (Obesity Action Coalition >> What is Obesity?).
- Hypertension (High Blood Pressure): Hypertension is 27% more prevalent for men with a BMI between 27 and 30 and is 32.7% more prevalent for women with the aforementioned BMI (Obesity Action Coalition >> What is Obesity?).
West Virginia has the highest rate of hypertension, at 41 percent.
- Liver and Gallbladder Disease
- Sleep Apnea and Respiratory Problems
- Gynecological Problems: Examples of weight related gynecological problems that are known to be experienced are abnormal menses (periodic flow of blood from the uterus) and infertility, among other things.
These conditions can directly cause or contribute to premature death or substantial disability. It is estimated that on average, an obese person will live eight to ten fewer years than and have medical costs that are an estimated $1500 higher than a non-obese person. Currently, health care costs for the United States as a whole range from $147 billion to nearly $210 billion per year (Obesity Rates & Trends.).
Obesity is an apparent problem that is far too common in the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), as of 2016, about 93.3 million adults (39.8%) and 13.7 million children and adolescents (18.5%) were affected by obesity. As of 2015, rates of obesity exceeded 35 percent in Arkansas, West Virginia and Mississippi. 22 states have rates above 30 percent and every state is at least 20 percent. Colorado had the lowest rate at 21.3 percent.
Obesity affects people of all ages, ethnic backgrounds, income levels and education levels. However, the highest overall obesity rates continue to be found amongst racial and ethnic minorities, those with lower levels of education and lower income levels, and in rural populations (What is Obesity?). African Americans and Hispanics have the highest rates of obesity at about 47 percent, respectively, Caucasians at 37.9 percent, and Asians at 12.7 percent. Individuals with lower income and/or education levels are disproportionately more likely to be obese. More than 33 percent of adults who earn less than $15,000 per year are obese, compared with 24.6 percent of those who earned at least $50,000 per year. (Obesity Rates & Trends.).
The question is: what is the cause of the seemingly never-ending and detrimental epidemic? The answer to that question is multifaceted. In the current fast-paced society that we live in, it is easy to adopt unhealthy behaviors. Behavior, in the case of obesity, relates to food choices, amount of physical activity you get and the effort to maintain your health. (Obesity Action Coalition >> What is Obesity?).
Subsidization of corn, soy, wheat, and rice through the U.S. farm bill has made the main sources of processed food cheap compared to fruits and vegetables. As a result, Americans have become increasingly reliant on convenient, calorie-rich, fast-food meals and junk food, such as potato chips. In fact, American consumption of fast-food meals has quadrupled since the 1970s and the purchase of junk food has spiked. This lack of vital nutrient consumption and increase in calorie and fat consumption is not being counteracted with adequate physical activity. Sixty percent of adults are not sufficiently active to achieve health benefits.
Mississippi has the highest percentage of inactivity among adults at 31.6 percent. Physical activity has instead been replaced with television, social media, video games, cars, and scooters, among other technologies and means of transportation. These unhealthy habits are passed from parents to their offspring, continuing a vicious cycle.
Obesity in the rest of the world is an issue that is just as much of a cause for concern as it is in the Unites States. Thirty-seven percent of adults and fourteen percent of children worldwide are obese. Surprisingly, obesity is increasing in developing countries, while its pace has slightly slowed in developed countries. Researchers have differing opinions concerning this particular subject. Some have hypothesized about the root causes, and the culprits are many, ranging from urbanization, to television, to rising incomes, to labor-saving technologies, to U.S. agricultural policies and junk-food exports. (Friedman, Uri). The top ten most unhealthy countries, which are home to half of the obese people in the world are, the United States, China, India, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Egypt, Germany, Pakistan, and Indonesia. The Unites States accounts for 13 percent of the world's obese population, while two of the most populated countries in the world account for a combined 15 percent (Friedman, Uri).
Contrary to popular belief, obesity is largely preventable. The task of conquering it, however, is not one that will happen overnight, with wishful thinking. The process, which is outlined by dietary changes and an increase in physical activity, will require dedication, cooperation, and sacrifice.