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Healthy Living

Shocking Obesity Facts

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 10/21/2010
Last Updated: 09/26/2018

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All you have to do is look around to realize that obesity is a growing problem in our society. It has more than doubled in the past 40 years among adults. Even more troubling is the climbing rate of obesity among teens: It has TRIPLED in the past 30 years. That's a lot of overweight, unhealthy young people walking around. (I was a skinny teen, but I do remember overweight kids being the target of cruel teasing, discrimination and bullying; yet another problem these young people – and adults, too - have to deal with).

There are many obvious culprits and influences to blame: fast food, computers and TV; rushed, busy lives; food products packed with sugars and oils; ads espousing junk foods; movie theaters selling junk food in super-size portions; people feeling stressed and eating (more) junk food. To make things worse, junk food is oftentimes cheaper – and many times more accessible - than healthy food. Big companies are creating flavors in the labs that will coat the mouth with pleasing sensations and make the consumer crave more and more.

According to new research by HealthyWomen's WomenTALK survey, many women underestimate their role and influence on their children for the growing obesity epidemic:

•    The majority of women surveyed do believe that a parent’s obesity influences a child's risk of being obese.

Yet nearly six out of ten women believe both mother and father's obesity have an equal influence.

•    Studies show a stronger correlation over time for mother-child obesity compared with father-child obesity – at all ages.

Only one-quarter of women surveyed actually assign the responsibility to themselves.

•    The risk of childhood obesity begins way before the child is even born. If the mother is obese during her first trimester of pregnancy, the child's risk of becoming obese more than doubles. (This impacts roughly one in five women – or 1.3 million annually- that are obese when they become pregnant.)

Forty-six percent of the respondents were unsure of this impact. Eleven percent believed there was no impact on her child’s risk for obesity.

•    The risk for newborn complications, including long-term complications like obesity, is higher for obese women with a body mass index of 35 or more.

According to new guidelines from the Institute of medicine, obese women (BMI>30) should only gain between 11 and 20 pounds.

The research extends to outside influences of friends and others, too:

•    Studies show that a person has a much greater chance of becoming obese if he or she had a friend who became obese (a sibling or spouse both actually have less influence).

Yet less than one in three respondents believe an obese friend can influence their weight.

Obesity puts you at risk for secondary diseases.

•    Nearly all the women surveyed recognized dangers like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

But less than half of women surveyed understand the increased risk of diseases and conditions like:

1.    Infertility
2.    Gallstones
3.    Colon cancer
4.    Breast cancer
5.    Uterine cancer

FACT: In 1994, the Journal of the American Association published findings from a series of studies conducted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. These studies started during the Eisenhower Administration and have been carried out periodically.

Scary stuff: In just ten years, Americans had collectively gained more than a BILLION pounds. That translates to a lot of bad health. That translates to an epidemic.

This Matters> "Empowering and educating women is the best way we know to break the cycle of obesity and promote healthy habits for the life of any woman and her loved ones," says Elizabeth Battaglino Cahill, RN, executive director of HealthyWomen.


Holy cow ... a billion pounds? That's a lot. I'm happy to report there is an apple, not junk food, on my desk right now, and I'll go for a quick walk before I sit down to work.

Yes to the apple! My personal preference is Fuji...

As a woman who is overweight I appreciate you considering this important issue, but am tired of finger pointing and guilt trips. I'm tired of people telling me I'm overweight instead of helping me find solutions. I'm not ranting at you, just in general. Studies about the impact of weight are great, but I'd love to see more studies about HOW we solve it. Stop telling me how dangerous it is and instead start finding ways to help those of us who are overweight. I exercise regularly. There is no junk food in my house. Pat answers don't help me.

I am sorry that you are feeling frustrated and feeling that the fingers are pointed unfairly at you. That was not my intention of this post at all. I think the anti-obesity movement is less about blame and more about education and awareness. As far as the issue of HOW to solve it, there are millions and millions of diet books and so much diet advice out there. I think it comes down to the fact that we all have an individual body type and composition and we all have our own personal way of eating from a psychological and physical standpoint. There are no quick fixes, which so many Americans are accustomed to getting. Maybe what it takes is working with a dietitian, nutritionist or general health practitioner in determining your obstacles and what is realistic. It is my hope that by examining your individual lifestyle, roadblocks and by being realistic about what your body and mind is capable of, you can attain maximum health.

Yikes that's a lot of pounds. Did you see the recent CDC findings that only 1/3 of adults are getting their recommended servings of veggies/fruits daily? I'm not a perfectly healthy eater but it was still surprising to see the numbers--it's even broken down by state. Along with trying to keep fruits and veggies as part of my daily regimen, I try to exercise everyday. Today I ran 3 miles and it felt great.

Yet more reasons to stay fit! A few years ago, there was a lot of buzz about the fat acceptance movement, which is controversial, because on the one hand, stigmatizing the obese doesn't help them, but on the other hand doctors were concerned that it could legitimize an unhealthful lifestyle. I'd be interested in your take on this, Sheryl!

That is interesting to think about, Susan.
As I commented above to SJS, I'm all for this movement as it relates to discrimination in the workplace and personal choice. Supporting the movement, in my mind, does not legitimize obesity, it only supports these two things.

I'm honestly embarrassed by all the obese Americans I see everywhere. I eat a lot. But I am very active so I am not overweight. I know it's complicated, and often psychological. I also know that you can be curvaceous and healthy, heavy but not obese. A little or even a lot of extra weight is okay by me (more to hug) but, honestly, no one should be obese.

Jennifer Margulis @ Mothering Outside the Lines

Yes, Jennifer, it is such a complicated issue. And partly, I think, the media delivers the wrong message that you have to be skinny to be healthy and look good. There are people who are fit and still overweight by the standards that are published; it's important to distinguish between obese and unhealthy and overweight and healthy.

Great important information. It's true that this is both a genetic, societal and lifestyle problem. We have to look at it from all angles.

This was really interesting! I know that my middle child, who nursed the longest in months, developed more fat cells than the others, according to the French pediatrician, and had to be attentive to not gaining weight as a teenager. I also read somewhere that this recent increase in obesity in the USA was also due to endocrine disruption of our hormones, caused by all the synthetic chemicals that slip into our diet.

That is indeed interesting, Alexandra, to learn the reason your child developed more fat cells. I wonder if that applies to all babies who are nursed longer? And I'm sure the synthetic chemicals in our diet contribute to throwing a lot of our normal body functions out of whack.

Just when you're trying to feel less guilty as a mother, you find out you play a disproportionate role in your child's weight. Sometimes, it's a relief when they grow up -- especially if they grow up without being obese.

I think, too, that it's a relief when they grow up and either adopt some of the health habits we as parents tried so hard to instill and also when they grow up and the responsibility is now theirs!

It definitely takes more effort to be fit in this day and age - we've got jobs huddled over a computer, kids on video games, food at every opportunity... I like to think back to the days when a person's "workout" was incorporated into their daily life - working on farms, walking long distances because it was the only way to get there, cutting and stacking wood, doing hard physical work to survive, etc.

Not sure I want to go back there, though - at least not all the way. I'll cut and stack wood, and then take a walk with my iPod.

Before all the "modern conveniences" and electricity, people definitely were in better shape. They had to climb stairs, get up to change the channel on the TV rather than push a button, go out and pick their supper. What's important to realize, I think, is that we can live today but try to mimic the movements of the past; ie. taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking instead of driving our car (or even if we take our car, parking farther away from our destination) etc.

So here's an interesting thing: the fat acceptance movement. I have some close friends who believe that being obese is their choice, and that the movement to curb obesity is a personal attack on them. I don't personally believe this, but I'm always trying to be sensitive to the beliefs of my friends. Would love to hear your thoughts on this as well.

SJS: I agree with the fat acceptance movement as far as curbing discrimination in the workplace. I agree with it in terms of allowing each individual to have a personal choice in their life. What I do not agree with is that the movement to curb obesity is meant as a personal attack on the obese; rather, it is meant as a way to educate and help people become healthier and stave off the diseases which come, inevitably, with carrying around extra pounds. It is a way to create awareness to a growing problem. I'm sorry your friends take it personally.

I don't believe it should pose as an attack either. Weight for women is always a dicey subject no matter how you go about it, but people should be happy with who they are while keeping health in mind. Here's another portal with some great women's health info.

Of curse that we mothers are the ones to blame for ours children eating habits. My mom had 4 children and my gramma raise 3 of us (no problems at all with food),she die and my mom raise he little one. Every time that mi sister cried my mom gave her a full bottle of milk to shut her up. that was the way her obesity started. After that, every time she was nervous or sad she found comfort in food. Babies don't know better, we mothers are the ones on charge. I feel bad when I see a mother with her kids getting in the fast food chains. I know it is the start of a vicious circle.

Ah, yes, food as comfort. I agree; many times babies are given something to eat or drink when they fuss when that's not really what they need. They could be crying and fussing for so many other reasons.

Makes me glad I decided to stay in and make a home-cooked meal for my son tonight (which I do most nights).


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