Obesity Rates May Be Leveling Off

Here is some remarkable news. We, meaning Americans in general, have finally begun to stop getting fatter. Not that we are any thinner, but at least our national weight expansion has leveled off. This semi-encouraging news comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


According to the center obesity rates for men have remained level for five years, and for women and children for almost ten years. Experts conclude the consistent increase over the last 30 years in percentage of population that is obese has finally abated.

Unfortunately, the actual numbers continue to be discouraging. Nearly 34 percent of the US adult population is obese – double the number that was recorded 30 years ago. The rate of children who are obese has tripled during the same period – leveling off at 17 percent. Obesity was most common among adults aged 40 to 59. About 40 percent of men in this age range were obese versus 28 percent of men 20 to 39. Some 41 percent of women 40 to 59 were obese, compared with 30.5 percent of women in the 20 to 39 age range.

“Right now we’ve halted the progress of the obesity epidemic,” said Dr. William H. Dietz, director of the division of nutrition, physical activity and obesity at the disease control centers. “The data are really promising. That said, I don’t think we have in place the kind of policy or environmental changes needed to reverse this epidemic just yet.”

Dr. Dietz suggested that the hero may be women: “who buy food, prepare it and see it, and they’re making changes for themselves that they’re also making for their kids.” He also cited a reduction in “less healthful foods” at school.

However, many experts remain pessimistic because the leveling off may not be a result of better eating and exercise habits. There may be a “biological limit” to how obese a person can become -- the excess calories generated by over-eating is used to support and maintain the excess weight and tissue. Another factor may be that most of the people who are genetically or psychologically susceptible to gain weight may have already become obese. Simply put, the population has “maxed” out in just how obese it can get.

The obesity epidemic represents a formidable financial hurdle to reforming the healthcare system. Another recent CDC study found that the health care costs of obesity related problems continue to accelerate and now account for nearly 10 percent of the health care budget, an estimated $150 billion. The high cost comes from the increased frequency of doctor visits, more expensive and probably more hospitalizations, as well as higher drug costs that are associated with obesity and obesity related health problems, such as heart disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes and arthritis. .

In 2000 federal health officials set a goal that no more than 15 percent of people would be obese in 2010.  “We aren’t near that, and we haven’t moved in that direction,” said Cynthia L. Ogden, an epidemiologist at the National Center for Health Statistics and an author of the report.

The researchers hope that the obesity data would mimic what happened with smoking rates. Smoking rates had continued to climb for decades before leveling off for several years and then finally declining. Public health commentators expressed the concern though that reducing the obesity rates in the country could be more challenging than reducing smoking, as weight is a two-fold behavioral issue, requiring both dieting and exercise.

Many experts argue that the real decline in obesity rates will only come with new public policies, similar to those used to reduce the use of tobacco related products. These would include restrictions on certain kinds of advertising and taxation, as well as mandated reduction of transfat, salt and other unhealthy ingredients in commercially sold foods.


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