obesity rates

Obesity Rates Continue to Increase

December 5, 2015

Despite various attempts by public health officials, insurance companies and campaigns to combat obesity, including a push by the First Lady, Michelle Obama, the obesity rates continue to increase.

Why a 3% increase in obesity is disappointing

While the statistics aren't staggering, they are disappointing. About 38% of American adults were obese in 2013 and 2014. This is up from 35% in 2011 and 2012. As a comparison of the trend, in 2003 and 2004, only 32% of adults were in the category of being obese.

“Everybody was hoping that with the decline in sugar and soda consumption, that we’d start seeing a leveling off of adult obesity.”  ~ Marion Nestle, a professor in the department of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University.

Obesity statistics past and present

The obesity rates in the U.S. started increasing in the 1980's. The good news is that since the late 1990's, the consumption of full-calorie, full-sugar soda pop has actually dropped by 25%. Even more good news is the overall calorie intake has dropped for both adults and children! Consumption of full-calorie soda has dropped by a quarter since the late 1990s, and there is evidence that calorie intake has dropped for adults and children. These trends had raised expectations that the disease of obesity might be decreasing.

Calories consumed by the average adult peaked in 2003. Fast forward to 2013-2014, they are in their first sustained decline. The number of calories that the average American child consumes daily has fallen even more — by at least 9%.

Statistics on middle-aged Americans are troubling. Adults ages 40 to 59 had the highest rate of obesity at 40%, closely followed at 37% for people ages 60 +. Adults ages 20 to 39 years old had an obesity rate of 32%.

Obesity among children and young adults (ages from 2 to 19) that were obese in 2013 and 2014 was basically the same as it was in 2003 and 2004. It is believed among experts much more work needs to be done to combat obesity in children, including changes in school lunches and the removal of sugar-sweetened beverages (including flavored milk) from some school systems.

Debra Eschmeyer, executive director of Let’s Move, Ms. Obama’s anti-obesity campaign. “It is more than encouraging to see in the C.D.C. report that childhood obesity rates are no longer rising,” she said.

Due to increasing awareness by the general population that eating and drinking too much was harmful to a person's health, supported by scientific research, helped to cause the downward trend in overall calorie consumption. With 86 cents of every health care dollar being spent on treating a chronic disease, the continued rise in obesity rates should be a call to action for all Americans.

Cheap food contributes to increased obesity rates

Dr. Walter Willett, the chairman of the Nutrition Department at the Harvard School of Public Health, cautioned that the modest improvements nationwide were extremely unevenly spread, with most of them happening among more educated Americans. A paper he co-authored in Health Affairs, found that Americans’ diets had improved in quality from 1999 to 2012 — with a reduction in trans fats, small increases in fiber and less soda consumption — but that most of those advances were not happening among lower-income, less educated Americans. In today's food restaurants of $1 menu items, many people turn to those high-calorie/low-nutrition alternatives to save money yet rob themselves of good health types of food choices.

Even though the overall calorie consumption is showing a decrease, the obesity rates still increased by 3%. For these obese individuals, they are still at risk for obesity-related conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Americans are still eating not enough vegetables and fruits, and eating too much of junk food.

Kelly D. Brownell, the Dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, said the new figures were a reminder that many risks, such as the prevalence and inexpensiveness of junk food, had not gone away, and a sign that policy makers needed to redouble their efforts to, for example, impose a tax on soda and/or junk food. “The emergency flag has gone up,” he said. “We are not doing nearly enough.”

What do you think?

Is a tax on snack food, junk food and soda in our future? If so, what would be the definition of these categories of foods and how would they be taxed?  What do you think about the obesity trend and taxing certain categories of food?  Would a tax dissuade you from buying those types of foods?


Photo credit:  tony alter cc