Nutrition-wise blog

What will it take to reverse the obesity epidemic?

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. October 3, 2012

The prestigious medical journal "JAMA" recently devoted an entire issue to the topic of obesity — from research on risk factors for childhood obesity to outcomes of gastric bypass surgery. It also provided a wide range of viewpoints on the role of genetics, medications, environment, online apps, self-control and the government in the "battle of the bulge."

Also just released was the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2012." The report reveals staggering statistics about obesity. It also forecasts the 2030 adult obesity rates for each state and the associated rise in obesity-related disease and health care costs:

  • Currently 35.7 percent of American adults and 16.9 percent of children ages 2 to 19 are obese (defined as a body mass index over 30).
  • If trends do not change, by 2030 the obesity rate for adults could top 44 percent nationally. In addition, rates could exceed 50 percent in 39 states and 60 percent in 13 states.
  • Currently more than 25 million Americans have type 2 diabetes, 27 million have chronic heart disease, 68 million have hypertension and 795,000 suffer a stroke each year. Approximately one in three deaths from cancer each year (approximately 190,650) are related to obesity, poor nutrition or physical inactivity.
  • In the next 20 years, obesity could contribute to more than 6 million cases of type 2 diabetes, 5 million cases of coronary heart disease and stroke, and more than 400,000 cases of cancer.
  • By 2030 costs associated with treating preventable obesity-related diseases are estimated to increase by $48 billion to $66 billion a year. The loss in economic productivity could be between $390 and $580 billion annually.
  • It's also projected that if the average body mass index was reduced by just 5 percent by 2030, thousands or millions of people could avoid obesity-related diseases, thereby saving billions of dollars in health care costs.

I'm encouraged that these reports show that we're getting serious about obesity and acknowledging that it's a massive public and personal health problem. Health care professionals are no longer pessimistic in their approach to obesity. Government is funding research into causes, effects, prevention and novel treatments.

There is no "silver bullet" and it will take the combined efforts of every segment of society to address this disease. This is nothing new. After all this is what it took to address other public health threats, such as HIV/AIDS, infant mortality, polio, car safety and tobacco.

I want to add that the most important aspect of reversing the obesity epidemic is personal responsibility and taking care of ourselves, our family and friends.

What are you contributing to the solution? You might start by watching the short video "The Obesity Epidemic" on the Obesity Society website: www.obesity.org/news-center/the-obesity-epidemic.htm.

Oct. 03, 2012