In the United States, obesity among adults and children is at epidemic proportions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the United States more than one-third of adults—over 72 million people—are obese and nearly one in three children are overweight or obese.
In the past three decades obesity rates for adults have doubled and rates for children have tripled. Along with obesity come physical, psychological and social consequences for both adults and children. Rising obesity rates will also accelerate an increase in health care costs absorbed by families, businesses and government.
Childhood obesity in particular threatens the health of American youth and their future potential. More than 23 million children and adolescents in the United States—nearly one in three young people—are either obese or overweight, putting them at higher risk for serious, even life-threatening health problems. If this epidemic is not reversed, the current generation of young people could be the first in U.S. history to live sicker and die younger than their parents’ generation.
Adult obesity is also a major concern. Research has shown that as weight increases above healthy levels the risks for numerous conditions also increases, including:
- Coronary heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon)
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Liver and Gallbladder disease
- Sleep apnea and respiratory problems
- Osteoarthritis (a degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint)
- Gynecological problems (abnormal menses, infertility)
Why is obesity such a problem in the United States?
Obesity is a very complex health issue that is caused by a variety of factors. At the most basic level, obesity is caused by an imbalance in the amount of calories a person takes in (through food and drink) and the amount of calories a person uses up (through physical activity and daily living). When the two sides of this equation become imbalanced, a person gains or loses weight.
Unfortunately for most Americans, the majority of U.S. cities and towns have become “obesogenic” environments. Obesogenic environments are places that by their very nature promote unhealthy eating (through, for example, the presence of many cheap fast food restaurants) and do not promote physical activity (through, for example, a lack of playgrounds, safe spaces to exercise, or sidewalks).
How do we solve obesity in the United States?
The most promising strategies to combat obesity are policy and environmental. In the school environment, policy and environmental strategies can include everything from changing school district vending policies to only allow healthy foods to putting more sidewalks near schools to joint-use agreements with local governments to share athletic fields. The common goal of these strategies is to create a school environment where the healthy choice is the easy choice.