Hardly a week goes by without yet another research study or expert telling us that we, as a nation, are fat. And getting fatter. The latest report comes from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation stating that by 2030 more than half of us will be obese–not just overweight, but obese–and that is ruining our country. As scary as that is, piling on more facts like this and simply telling us to lose weight is never going to work. But there is one thing that will.
Right now, about 36% of our country is obese, but according to the report–aptly named “F as in Fat,” if Americans continue with our current lifestyles of eating too much and exercising too little, more than half the population in 39 states will be obese by 2030. And, in 13 states, that rate will be above 60 percent.
In a controversial measurement of weight–but the only one we really have right now–a healthy body mass index (BMI) is 18-24.9. Overweight is defined as 25-29.9, and obesity is anything above 30, which is where half of our country is heading.
Not only that, but we are also heading into financial ruin as a result, according to this report. Massive spikes in type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension and arthritis are anticipated. As well as a heavy blow to our pockets:
By 2030, medical costs associated with treating preventable obesity-related diseases are estimated to increase by $48 billion to $66 billion per year in the United States. The loss in economic productivity could top $500 billion.
And according to Connie Diekman, director of nutrition at Washington University in St Louis, this is going to sink our already stretched healthcare system:
Our society is not in a position to financially manage these increased costs and the implication of that is significant compromise to quality of life — and possibly longevity — for many people.
OK, so we get all that. But what’s the solution here? Banning Big Gulps is not going to make this problem go away. Neither is pointing the finger and shaming someone onto the treadmill. But if you ask these researchers, everyone should just lose 5% of their BMI–then our obesity rates would stagnate. Easier said than done in a society where sedentary lifestyles have taken over.
The real answer to decreasing our waistlines and increasing our health lies in creating more opportunities for active lifestyles. Mandating proper P.E. at every school, every day and offering more affordable gyms and outdoor fitness programs is key. If the government really wants to do something useful with their dollars–instead of spending it on more useless research like this–they should invest in more parks, more school fitness programs and more sports leagues for kids and adults. Build more bike trails, more swimming pools, more playgrounds. Help parents pay for sports (because paying $100 or more per child for a season of soccer is not affordable for many families these days). And encourage more employers to subsidize gym memberships for employees.
Oh, and let’s stop showing ads with fat people telling us how fat we are. Instead, let’s show people outdoors, being active and getting healthy. And let’s help them get there. Because curtailing obesity is about empowerment, not shame or blame.