Almost half of all Americans are obese and there seems to be no stopping this trend, new research shows.
Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that in 2015-2016, 39.8% adults and 18.5% of youth in the US were obese. While extremely worrying, this isn’t really surprising. In the past 30 years, obesity rates have been constantly on the rise, especially among adults. In more recent years, youth obesity has also taken a foothold. From 2000 to 2016, there has been a 30% increase in adult obesity and 33% increase in youth obesity. If this keeps up, then there will soon be more obese than non-obese people.
The main culprits are fairly easy to point out: unhealthy diet and a lack of physical activity. Sugary foods — and just as importantly, sugary drinks — greatly contribute to the surge in obesity prevalence. But there’s no silver bullet to fighting obesity. Changes to diet and exercising are the main “treatments” but they take a lot of time, effort, and motivation. Diet quality can be improved by replacing processed and energy-dense foods (high in fat and sugar) with more fruits and vegetables. Exercise is also extremely important but the sedentary lifestyle is slowly taking over.
That a healthy diet and exercising tackle obesity is not really groundbreaking science. Everyone knows, or at the very least, should know this. But something is not working, it’s not just clicking together. Dr. Craig Hales, medical epidemiologist at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and author of the study suggests that national policy has been lacking. He is one of the many medical scientists calling for stronger policy and regulation. Michael W. Long, assistant professor at the Milken Institute of School Public Health at George Washington University, who wasn’t involved in the study, says the government just isn’t doing enough. Patrick T. Bradshaw, who studies population health at UC Berkeley, also says we need more aggressive intervention.
However, this growing consensus isn’t being echoed by policymakers. With no clear solutions in sight, a group of nationally disparaged efforts can’t stem the tide of surging obesity rates, especially as the current administration hasn’t made solving the crisis one of its priorities.
The impact of obesity cannot be overstated. Obesity is claiming the lives of some 400,000 Americans every year, costing society an estimated $117 billion in direct and indirect costs. Obesity is one of the main reasons why the US has a relatively low life expectancy compared to other high-income countries.