By: Francis Koster, Ed.D.

As of 2006 data, one hundred and nineteen million (64.5 percent) of American adults are overweight or obese. For Hispanics and African Americans, the rate is even higher.

A person has traditionally been considered to be obese if they are more than 20 percent over their ideal weight.

Obesity has been more precisely defined by the National Institutes of Health (the NIH) as a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 and above. (A BMI of 30 is about 30 pounds heavier than they should be.) A BMI between 24.9 and 30 is considered to be “overweight”, and carries significant health risks as well, but not as bad as those of people who are obese.

When the statistics for 2008 are released late in 2009, a projected 73 percent of American adults are anticipated to be overweight or obese. (2)

Obese people have annual medical costs that are 37% higher than their healthy weight counterparts (3), representing an additional $732 per obese person per year. The direct medical costs of obesity in the U.S. have been estimated to be greater than $92 Billion a year, or roughly equal to 10% of the annual federal deficit. Nearly one half of overweight and obesity driven medical spending is the responsibility of the public sector (Medicaid and Medicare) (4).

One recent study suggests 86 percent of Americans could be Overweight or Obese by 2030 with related health care spending projected to be as much as $956.9 billion(5).

When the word “Mal-nutrition” is used, people often think it means underfed. In fact, it means inappropriately fed, because obese people are also mal-nourished. Recent research suggests that just as undernourishment in pregnant mothers negatively impacts both their children and grandchildren's health, so does obesity. (6) Thus, the current epidemic of Obesity is laying down the foundation of degenerating health for at least two generations to follow.

Additionally, related research indicates that in time of epidemic, obese infected individuals provide a much more fertile incubator for more virulent forms of the disease to grow.  Thus, the presence of a large and growing obese population is a threat to the overall public health as a larger percentage of the infected population is capable of causing increasingly dangerous disease forms. (7)

Obesity has several causes, including (but not limited to) caloric intake and lack of physical exercise. In the category of caloric intake, the vast majority of excess calories are consumed in drinks, not food (8) which opens up opportunities for intervention that could increase national health, decrease health care expenditures, and extend life expectancy by focusing on a single behaviour.

 

1) http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=4607

2) F as in Fat released by Trust for America’s Health 2005

3) Finkelstein EA., Fiebelkorn IC, Wang G. National medical spending attributable to overweight and obesity: how much, and who's paying? Health.Aff. 2003, Suppl Web Exclusives, W3-219-26.

4) ibid

5) Youfa Wang, May A. Beydoun, Lan Liang, Benjamin Caballero and Shiriki K. Kumanyika. Will All Americans Become Overweight or Obese? Estimating the Progression and Cost of the US Obesity Epidemic. Obesity, Advance online publication, July 24, 2008 DOI:doi:10.1038/oby.2008.351

6) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/11/061113180343.htm

7)  http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/520026

8) Barry M. Popkin Department of Nutrition, School of Public Health and Medicine. Energy intake positively associated with non-diet soft drinks in children . www.cpc.unc.edu/projects/beverage/publications/us-diet-and-the-role-of-beverage.ppt -