10 Nice to Know Facts About the Obesity Epidemic

1. A global problem. The number of overweight and obese individuals is increasing worldwide at an alarming rate in both developed and underdeveloped countries. The rise in global obesity is thought to be a by-product of environmental and behavioral changes linked to economic development, modernization, and urbanization. Paradoxically, in many developing countries, obesity often coexists with a substantial level of malnutrition.

2. Where there’s a will, there may be a pill. Every major pharmaceutical company in the world either has an ongoing obesity program or is attempting to establish one. In addition to fixating on the potential gold mine in the obesity epidemic, the pharmaceutical industry has launched a major effort to persuade the government to make it easier for them to get weight-loss drugs onto the market, despite the fact that the industry over the years has failed to develop a single diet pill with benefits that have exceeded its limitations.

3. A failing report card. According to the University of Baltimore’s Obesity Initiative’s first national report card on how well states are doing to control obesity, nearly half of all states are failing in this regard, and another 10 states are just keeping pace. In fact, only one state (Arkansas) received a ‘‘B’’ grade; 10 states were accorded a ‘‘C,’’ 16 states received a ‘‘D,’’ 23 states received an ‘‘F’’ for completely failing to combat obesity, and no state earned an ‘‘A’’ for its efforts to confront this insidious issue.

4. More than a cosmetic issue. Many obesity experts believe that one of the most important steps in the battle against the obesity epidemic is that overweight and obese individuals must realize that their excessive weight is a serious health issue, rather than just a matter of how they look to others (and to themselves).

5. The blame game. Not surprisingly, a number of lawsuits have been filed in the past few years by attorneys representing overweight and obese individuals against the food industry (particularly fast food chains) for its alleged culpability concerning the unhealthy condition of their clients. It remains to be seen how successful the ‘‘somebody other than me has to be responsible for my ill-advised lifestyle choices’’ argument will be in court.

6. No free lunch. The financial and human impact of the obesity epidemic is catastrophic. Not only do scientists estimate that more than 400,000 deaths can be attributed to this crisis annually, but the direct and indirect costs attendant to the treatment of health problems associated with being overweight or obese total over $100 billion dollars in U.S. health and related medical expenditures each year.

7. A deadly link. Expanding waistbands have been found to increase a person’s risk for cancer. In fact, according to a recent American Cancer Society report, one in five cancer deaths is linked to obesity.

8. A bleak forecast. Research has found that overweight or obese children have a substantial risk of growing up to be overweight or obese adults. This finding is particularly alarming, given the dramatic rise in childhood overweight and obesity rates.

9. Filling a need. The ill-advised nature of the efforts to reduce or eliminate the physical education requirement in our nation’s schools becomes ever more apparent as the number of overweight and obese children in the United States continues to grow. In response to the critical need for more movement opportunities for our nation’s school children, most health/fitness clubs in the United States offer activity programming directed specifically at children.

10. It ain’t hay, peanuts, or chicken feed. Walter Bortz, M.D., working with a team of Stanford University researchers, has calculated that every excess pound of body fat on U.S. citizens drains approximately $25 from the American health-care system annually.

James A. Peterson, Ph.D., FACSM, is a freelance writer and consultant in sports medicine. From 1990 until 1995, Dr. Peterson was director of sports medicine with StairMaster. Until that time, he was professor of physical education at the United States Military Academy.

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