It’s no secret that Americans have an obesity problem, but since we’re awfully skilled at looking away from the scale and towards our next drive thru, it can’t hurt to take a moment to check in with the numbers: According to an annual report from the Trust for America’s Health, adult obesity rates have gone up in 16 states between 2008 and 2010 (and gone down in none). Which puts over two-thirds of U.S. states at obesity rates of over 25 percent, while only one state — Colorado — has a rate lower than 20 percent.
You could roll your eyes and tell me you’ve heard it before; you could question all these studies’ definitions of “obese.” But if I told you that 25% of the population had AIDS, you’d be frantic. Everyone would freak out. The news would make front-page headlines. We’d be raising funds to resolve an epidemic; in fact, that’s exactly the reaction that the world’s highest AIDS rates, which hover around six percent in Sub-Saharan Africa according to the most recent report from UNAIDS, have gotten from the media and world organizations.
AIDS, of course, is a far more disconcerting disease. It’s contagious, there’s no current cure, and treatment is so expensive that it’s unattainable for many. Obesity, on the other hand, is curable. It’s not contagious, and treatment isn’t fraught with the same difficulties of expense or accessibility.
But obesity-related death and disease is just as real as AIDS-related death. And, like AIDS, obesity rates are highest amongst the poorest populations: According to the Trust’s report, 33 percent of adults who didn’t graduate high school are obese; only 21.5 percent of college graduates are. Over 33 percent of adults whose income is less than $15,000 per year are obese; the rate is only 24.6 percent among those who earn $50,000 or more. Racial disparities vary per state, but in Washington, D.C., obesity rates were 34.4 percent for blacks, 18.1 percent for Latinos and 9.3 percent for whites.
Sound depressing? Well, it should. This is the sort of thing that should be setting off alarm bells, and not because people aren’t looking good for bikini season, or because I’m on a rampage against fast food.
Six percent of a population with AIDS is considered an epidemic of a sort that’s inhumane to ignore, and so should the obesity rate in the U.S.
According to the Trust’s report, the overall U.S. adult obesity rate is 21.7 percent. Where are the fundraising galas? Where are the celebrity-studded awareness campaigns? Where are the U.N. councils? Angelina Jolie, where are you?
UNAIDS promotes an inspiring vision:
zero discrimination, zero new HIV infections, and zero AIDS-related deaths through universal access to effective HIV prevention, treatment, care and support
We should be committed to the same vision for obesity. Rates should be stabilizing and decreasing, not increasing. Everyone should have access to information and tools to enable prevention, treatment, care and support of obesity, as they would of any other disease. And we shouldn’t be discriminating against the obese, either.
The emotional and physical challenges that come with obesity aren’t unlike the emotional challenges that come with any other life-threatening disease, and we need to help and support each other. What are you doing to support a fight against obesity?