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Obese in America: Our growing epidemic

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Americans are getting fatter. Over the last two decades the percentage of overweight and obese adults and children have been steadily increasing. According to National Institutes of Health, packing around all those extra pounds is also making us sicker. For the first time ever, obesity may surpass smoking as the leading cause of preventable cancer.

Since 1995, smoking rates in the US have fallen by 20 percent, while obesity rates have risen by 48 percent. If those rates continue, obesity will soon cancel out the life expectancy and quality-of-life benefits gained by declining smoking rates, according to a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Nearly one in three of all U.S. adults is now classified as overweight or obese, according to the NHI, a 7.6 percentage point increase since 1994. The data show that 31 percent of adults 20 years and older—nearly 59 million people—have a body mass index of 30 or greater, compared with 23 percent in 1994.

According to a recent American Institute for Cancer Research study, more than 100,000 cancers in the U.S. are linked to excess body fat. The total medical tab for obesity-related illnesses is $117 billion a year—and climbing—according to the Surgeon General.

“The evidence is clear: If people sustain a normal body weight and remain physically active throughout life, it will have a major impact on cancer incidence,” said Laurence N. Kolonel, MD, Ph.D., Deputy Director of the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii and a member of the expert panel who crunched the numbers.

Perhaps more frightening is the percentage of children who are overweight and obese continues to grow. Among children and teens, ages 6 to 19, a whopping 15 percent—nearly 9 million in 2000 (the latest data available)—is triple to the proportion in 1980. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry estimates today's percentage to be between 16 and 33 percent.

Add a Comment3 Comments

That's a good point. Those were the latest figures I could find. Now that First Lady Michelle Obama is making childhood obesity her centerpiece cause, I bet we can expect to see new statistics soon. In the meanwhile, check out http://www.parentdish.com/2010/02/08/study-finds-three-routines-can-cut-kids-risk-of-obesity/

I have noticed that some reports are using the highest percentage figure (one-third of all US children), but most are averaging between the high and the low or giving the range. Thank you for posting.

February 10, 2010 - 10:01am
EmpowHER Guest

I've actually been trying to find the most updated report of the percentage of obese children, and had found the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry article. It does say that child obesity is between 16 and 33 percent, but that was last updated in 2008. It makes me wonder what 2010 is like. I've yet to find an article that tells the percentage today.

February 9, 2010 - 10:06pm
HERWriter Guide

Lynette - The increase in obesity is truly alarming, especially among children. It would be good to see more media attention to the points you make in your post. Pat

January 21, 2010 - 5:17pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.