Obesity, an increasing epidemic in the U.S.

By Nisa Islam Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Jan 8, 2020 - 1:49:24 PM

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The results of America’s love affair with food is catching up with her citizens. By 2030 about half of the adult U.S. population will have obesity and about a quarter will have severe obesity, according to a new study led by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.


The study also predicts that in 29 states, more than half of the population will have obesity, and all states will have a prevalence of obesity higher than 35 percent. The study’s researchers estimate that, currently, 40 percent of American adults have obesity and 18 percent have severe obesity.

The results showed that by 2030, several states will have obesity prevalence close to 60 percent, while the lowest states will be approaching 40 percent. Study researchers predicted that nationally, severe obesity will likely be the most common Body Mass Index (BMI) category for women, Black adults and those with incomes under $50,000 per year.

“The high projected prevalence of severe obesity among low-income adults has substantial implications for future Medicaid costs,” said lead study author Zachary Ward, programmer/ analyst at Harvard Chan School’s Center for Health Decision Science.

“In addition, the effect of weight stigma could have far-reaching implications for socioeconomic disparities as severe obesity becomes the most common BMI category among low-income adults in nearly every state.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, weight that is higher than what is considered as a healthy weight for a given height is described as overweight or obese. Body Mass Index, or BMI, is used as a screening tool to measure overweight or obesity.

Doctors determine obesity by measuring a person’s BMI, which is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of their height in meters. A BMI of above 30 is considered obese; above 35 is considered severely obese, which typically means having 100 pounds or more of excess weight.

The study was published in the December 19 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers said the predictions are troubling because the health and economic effects of obesity and severe obesity take a toll on several aspects of society.

“Obesity, and especially severe obesity, are associated with increased rates of chronic disease and medical spending, and have negative consequences for life expectancy,” said Steven Gortmaker, professor of the practice of health sociology at Harvard Chan School and senior author of the study.

For the study, researchers used self-reported body mass index (BMI) data from more than 6.2 million adults who participated in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey (BRFSS) between 1993 and 2016.

The study asked participants questions that included how often they drank regular soda or pop that contained sugar, how often they drank sugar-sweetened fruit drinks (such as Kool-Aid and lemonade), sweet tea, and sports or energy drinks and ate out at fast food and chain restaurants.

“Prevention is going to be key to better managing this epidemic,” said Mr. Ward, a fifth-year student in the Harvard Ph.D. Program in Health Policy.

He suggests limiting sugar sweetened beverages. He explained how hard it can be for some people to lose weight especially if they are obese. An easy preventive measure is to limit sugar sweetened beverages.

States with the highest projected 2030 obesity rates are: Oklahoma, 58.4 percent; Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi, 58.2 percent; West Virginia, 57.5 percent; and Louisiana, 57.2 percent. The highest populations of severe obesity are projected to be in Arkansas, 32.6 percent; Oklahoma, 31.7 percent; and Mississippi, 31.7 percent.

States or districts with the lowest projected obesity rates are: District of Columbia, 35.3 percent; Colorado, 38.2 percent; Hawaii, 41.3 percent; California, 41.5 percent; Massachusetts, 42.3 percent; and New York, 42.8 percent.

Sylvia McMillian, a D.C. government employee, has struggled with her weight for decades. “I’m a slave to food. When I’m happy I eat, when I’m sad, I eat. When I’m stressed I eat. When I’m lonely, I eat. I need help. I really need to figure out what’s eating me. Food is so vital to my life,” she explained.

“This is the story of so many people that I know. Everyone I’m around has a weight problem. Food brings us together. We celebrate with food. We are sad with food and all of my friends are good cooks. We like to eat and it shows. My goal for this year is to lose weight. The first thing I’m going to do is cut out sweet drinks. I think I’m being healthy by drinking lots of juice each day but its excess calories I don’t need. I need more water and more exercise. Pray for me.”