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Obesity in North America

author image Elle Paula
Elle Paula has a Bachelor of Science in nutrition from Framingham State College and a certificate in holistic nutrition from the American College of Healthcare Sciences. She is also a licensed aesthetician with advanced training in skincare and makeup. She plans to continue on with her education, complete a master's degree program in nutrition and, ultimately, become a registered dietitian.
Obesity in North America
A server delivering an entree to a patron in a restaurant. Photo Credit: ShotShare/iStock/Getty Images

Obesity, which is defined as having a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or higher, is a serious and costly epidemic. Although obesity has become a nationwide concern, the United States has the highest obesity rate of all the high-income countries, among both adults and children, in the world

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A Rising Epidemic

Although obesity rates have remained fairly steady since 2003, numbers have more than doubled since 1980. As of 2012, more than one-third, approximately 36 percent, of American adults are obese. The journal “Lancet” estimates that at the rate the obesity epidemic is going, nearly half of all American men and women will be obese by 2030. Ever-increasing portion sizes and astronomical portion sizes at restaurants are part of the problem. The Harvard Gazette also blames sedentary lifestyle, an increase in snacking, regular consumption of sugary beverages and food marketing.

The Statistics

Obesity affects certain ethnic and racial groups more than others. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, obesity rates are higher in Hispanic, Mexican American and Black Americans. Of these racial groups, Black women have the highest obesity rates -- coming in at almost 59 percent. Obesity rates differ by geographical location, as well. The Midwestern and Southern United States has the highest obesity prevalence, at almost 30 percent, while the Northeast and the West had the lowest, at around 25 percent.

Save Our Children

The World Health Organization describes childhood obesity as one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. Over the past 30 years, childhood obesity rates have tripled in the United States and as of 2012, one in every six American children is obese. High-carbohydrate diets that are rich in white breads, processed foods and fried foods are partly to blame. The increasing availability, convenience and low cost of high-fat fast food and the marketing of unhealthy foods to children also plays a role. Obese children are more likely to stay obese as they enter adulthood, and as a result, are more likely to develop chronic health problems like diabetes and heart disease at a much younger age. Not only that, obesity also negatively affects a child’s emotional and social development. Childhood obesity is more common in boys than girls, with rates of 19 and 15 percent, respectively.

The Gamble

Being obese increases the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer -- some of the leading causes of preventable death in the United States. Obesity is also linked to a wide variety of other chronic health problems, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, liver disease, gallbladder disease, sleep apnea, respiratory problems, osteoarthritis and infertility. The Harvard School of Public Health states that obesity is at least partly responsible for the significant increase in type 2 diabetes, which was formerly referred to as adult-onset diabetes, in children. In 2008, researchers estimated the annual medical cost of obesity in the United States at 147 billion dollars.

Avoiding the Obesity Trap

You can avoid the obesity trap or start on the road to a healthier you by making better lifestyle choices. Choose lean meats, fruits, veggies and whole grains over processed foods, refined grains, fried foods and fast food. Share meals at restaurants or ask your server for a to-go container as soon as you get your food and save half for your next meal. Swap out your sugary beverages with water or unsweetened herbal tea. Limit time spent on the couch and get in at least 30 to 60 minutes of exercise on at least 5 days of the week.

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