Being overweight is the new normal in America and this not an opinion: it’s proved by the latest statistics. According to the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than seven out of ten adults age 20 and older are either overweight or obese. These numbers are lower for children and teens but have been rising steadily and rapidly in recent decades even for them.
The growth of the weight loss/diet industries in the US indicates just how bad this problem has become. By 2017 they’d grown to $66 billion and by some estimates are even higher. Americans are spending approximately $200 billion on related health costs.
Why are so many people gaining so much weight? Exactly what’s going on out there? While there are some simple explanations to these questions, there are no simple solutions.
One of the explanations, suggested by the Physical Activity Council, is that people are not getting enough exercise. Here’s a shocking statistic they’ve come up with: 82.4 million Americans age six and older were completely inactive in 2017.
This is a major departure from the times when virtually everyone was active in the mid and later 1900s. People often walked to work when possible, were active during the day, walked up and down stairs, and carried packages from stores. Kids who missed the school bus in the morning took their bikes, walked, or when they were really late ran there. During the course of a day, stay-at-home housewives did a lot of cleaning, shopping, washing, and related work. And on Sundays, lots of people preferred taking a bucket of soapy water to wash their cars rather than going to a car wash.
These activities burned up calories, some more than others, but in any case they added up over the course of a day. Gradually they have given way to a different lifestyle, one that is more pressured and sedentary. Eating is no longer just to ease hunger pains but for pleasure and to quell the emotional and nervous pressures of the day; big meals are no longer reserved for holidays and other special occasions but virtually a ritual after stressful days.
Moreover, portion sizes have also changed over the years, and they are very much a part of this problem. At one time a slice of pizza was considered a meal, but these days a full meal usually consists of two slices and sometimes two slices plus a falafel, calzone or fries, and those are often washed down with a soda, Snapple, or other sweet drink.
“What’s For Desert?”
The favorite comfort foods – the items that temporarily give us an energy and/or emotional boost – vary from state to state, but the common denominators are that they are often sweet, usually have a lot of fat, taste great, and are very fattening. In New York State, Buffalo wings takes top billing, in New Jersey it’s Taylor ham, cheese, and egg on a bagel, while in Florida, key lime pie is in first place.
Anyone who guesses that the states with the most obese residents are also the wealthiest ones is mistaken; in fact, the opposite is much closer to the truth. Poor and financially stressed people can’t afford to buy expensive cuts of meat, fish, and other quality food on a regular basis. To save money they make dishes like pasta, white rice, fries, and other fried food – and consuming large quantities of these items on a regular basis is virtually a recipe for substantial weight gain. Incidentally, the top five obese states are: Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, West Virginia, and in first place Mississippi.
Ups And Downs Of Dieting
When starting a weight-loss program, dieters are determined to reach their goals. However, usually they go off of their diets or reach their goal but regain the weight they’ve lost. Wallethub asked a number of experts why this happens so often, and what the biggest mistakes dieters make are; their answers may surprise you.
Stephen Ball, a state specialist and professor at the University of Missouri, said, “The research is clear: Weight loss without exercise is temporary. Almost every successful weight loser will gain all and often more of the weight back if exercise is not part of the program.”
Ryan Olson, assistant professor, KHPR Department, Univ. of North Texas, had this recommendation: “It is essential that people spend time developing a meal plan for the week where portions are controlled and the food is comprised of healthy options.”
And Allen Jackson, Regents professor, Department of Kinesiology Health Promotion and Recreation, University of North Texas, had a different explanation. Jackson blames the problem on lack of patience.
“It took most people a long time to become overweight and obese, but they expect to lose weight very quickly. Step One is more physical activity including strength training and Step Two is consuming less calories. Achieve those behavioral objectives and over time weight loss will come for most people.”
One’s first impression of someone obese is that he or she eats too much, and while that’s probably true sometimes, it’s an oversimplification of this very complicated issue. Ongoing stress plays a large role in this problem. Emotional instability does, too, and so does sleeplessness, certain medications, certain diseases, family problems, and financial pressures. Of course, genetics also plays a role. Some studies suggest that certain sugar substitutes are linked to weight gain. While each of these factors can cause obesity, society shuns people who suffer from this problem.
Rather than look down on obese people, maybe the time has come to be more sympathetic and tolerant, being grateful for not having this troubling condition.
Sources: medicinenet.com; stateofobesity.org; wallethub.com