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The CDC's Winnable Battles in Public Health: Obesity

By HERWriter
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Obesity related image Photo: Getty Images

With the amount of political, media and research attention it has been given in the past 5 years, it is no surprise that reducing rates of obesity is on the list of CDC Winnable Battles. Endless reports indicate that our nation has deeply troubling problems with our relationship to food, our lifestyle choices and the underlying causes and disparities that contribute to this epidemic of obesity.

Due to the widespread and growing causes and consequences related to this issue, I truly believe that this will be the most difficult Public Health battle to overcome. But as health care costs mount and conditions/diseases related to overweight are seen in higher incidence -- not only across the country, but across the world – the CDC is leading the troops forward! (Or at least encouraging us to get out of our chairs ...)

So -- what is such a big deal about our country’s weight statistics anyway?

The bottom line is that obesity shortens and lowers the quality of our lives. It costs individuals, health care facilities and government programs an obscene amount of money. In 2008 dollars, these costs totaled about $147 billion in the United States.

It impacts whole communities negatively. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, due to rising obesity, “the U.S. could be facing its first sustained drop in life expectancy in the modern era.” (NEJM, 2005)

As in many cases, pictures speak louder than words, and the illustrations depicting the percentage of people with a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 30 (considered morbidly obese) from 1985 to 2010 truly speaks for itself. Visit the link to see a visual representation of our country’s collective weight gain: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/trends.html

Keep in mind that while BMI is not necessarily the best measurement of a person’s health as it only accounts for height, weight and age of a person, the rates of people diagnosed with diabetes and the incidence of heart disease have also increased in a correlated manner.

Also keep in mind that the data in this graphic does not take into account the much HIGHER rates of obesity in certain populations and the disparities that people of color, people with lower economic status and people with lower levels of education are perpetuated in obesity rates.

Well -- what is the CDC doing about it?

In a word -- lots. The CDC is working with partners from a variety of fields to prevent obesity, treat its complications and lessen the disparities in populations’ access to healthy lifestyle choices. These actions are loosely centered around encouraging healthier eating, more physical activity and less time in front of a screen, but take on a number of forms and focuses.

Change will come from policies that restrict use of trans fats to programs that bring healthy, fresh foods into schools; from changes in the recommended amounts of exercise, to regulations on the way food is transported or advertised; from changes in communities’ infrastructure and design to business incentives for grocery stores in establish food desserts, and more!

One example of the many avenues and actions that the CDC’s fight against obesity has taken is a greater emphasis on breastfeeding. Research has linked longer exclusive breastfeeding to lower rates of childhood obesity.

Therefore, at a variety of levels the agencies have worked to make hospitals more breastfeeding-friendly, and advocated for policies requiring all work places to provide space for women to express milk. The agencies have suggested that the United States adopt a standard, paid maternity leave, supported peer-education programs for lactating women, and spearheaded all sorts of research.

So, while obesity is an issue that has affected every part of the United States, is the result of many factors, and will have long-lasting impacts on our societies, it is also being dealt with in complex and multi-leveled manners.

First Lady Michelle Obama is willing to get down and dance to Beyonce’s music in order to advocate for healthy exercise. What can YOU do??

1. Eat a balanced diet high in fresh produce and full of many natural colors. (Think orange carrots and dark green kale, not radioactive red fruit snacks or rainbow colored Lucky Charms.) If there are not fresh foods available in your area, canned fruits and vegetables are still extremely nutritious and delicious.

Consider what portion sizes are appropriate for your body. Remember that food is something to be enjoyed, not overly-restricted or gobbled without thinking! Eating can be a fabulous, social affair and doesn’t have to be a source of guilt, unhappiness or unhealthiness.

2. Get some form of exercise every day. Take a walk! Jog up and down the stairs a few times! Do some stretches or aerobic exercises in your bedroom every morning!

Find a routine that works for you and is sustainable for your schedule. It is recommended that adults get 30 minutes of exercise 5 times a week, however if weight loss is your goal, this time or the intensity of your workout should be doubled.

3. Limit your intake of sugary drinks. Water is better. Milk is better. Sugary beverages are unnecessary calories that deplete your calcium and rot your teeth. Even the “diet” options.

4. Reduce your screen time. Go outside! Play with your kids! Give your fingertips and eyeballs a break from fluorescent lights and little buttons.

5. Advocate for programs and policies in your community that support making healthy choices available for everyone. This includes Farm 2 School or Buy Local initiatives, city plans that designate space in the community for outdoor activity, educational curricula that encourage balanced diets and social media campaigns that promote positive body image and self-esteem.

What else can we all do to reduce obesity among our friends and loved ones? What is being done in your community? What else must change in our nation before the socio-economic disparities in rates of obesity and weight-related disease can be mitigated? Please feel free to comment below.


Olshansky SJ, et. al. “A Potential Decline in Life Expectancy in the United States in the 21st Century,” New England Journal of Medicine, 352:11. http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/mar2005/nia-16.htm

“Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity.” October, 2011. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Atlanta, GA http://www.cdc.gov/WinnableBattles/Obesity/index.html

Reviewed October 28, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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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.


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