Pretty much everyone agrees that obesity in America is problematic, multi-faceted, expensive, and difficult to combat. But exactly how big is the problem? According to a new report in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, by the year 2030, 42% of U.S. adults will be clinically obese, based on their BMI (which is an admittedly flawed, 200-year-old method of measurement, but it’s also, somehow, all we’ve got). Which is a lot. That’s a lot of obese people. But this forecast, based on current obesity statistics, doesn’t reveal that Americans are dumb and lazy–it also indicates that more education and outreach is necessary, and that we’re still not at the root of the problem.
The study, which was released this morning at the CDC’s Weight of the Nation conference, examined both state and federal data about weight trends in the U.S., and took into account the problems that come with self-reporting, like the fact that most people underestimate their weight and overestimate their height. Correcting for these errors, the data indicates that not only will obesity grow by about 10% (presently, about 33% of Americans are obese), but that curbing this growth could save as much as $549.5 billion in obesity-related expenses.
Of course, it’s easy to blame obese people for being a burden on society (and a lot of people do–a recent survey by Glamour magazine found that the prevailing opinion of overweight people was that they were “lazy”) and for conscientiously choosing an unhealthy lifestyle, but the fact is that most people who are overweight or obese have tried to lose weight at some point, but the deck is stacked against them. When corporations like McDonald’s continue to hawk massively sugary and highly-caloric beverages as “natural” and “healthy,” and doctors are too embarrassed or nervous to have real, pragmatic conversations with patients, it’s no wonder than many Americans just don’t know what to believe.
There’s also a major problem with the discourse surrounding obesity. Too often, it is all about weight and BMI–neither of which really get at the real issue: health. One recent study by researchers in Italy noted that diabetes can be mitigated or cured with some weight loss in obese individuals, regardless of their initial BMI. Which means that even when the patients are still clinically obese, they can still be more fit and healthy than they were before. It’s not a matter of fat or skinny–it’s a matter of healthy or not.
These numbers are greatly concerning–but they’re not an opportunity to get all fat-shamey and blamey. Instead, it’s an opportunity to focus on health, fitness, and education, and hope that by calling attention to uncooperative food manufacturers, unwilling doctors, and pervasive myths, that Americans can stand a fighting chance against fat.
Image via the CDC