Take charge of your health. Sign up for HealthyWomen newsletters:
Healthy Living

Startling Facts on the Dangers of Being Overweight

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 05/23/2012
Last Updated: 08/15/2012

Share on:

Congratulations to Joan Pagano of New York City, the winner of the PROBAR giveaway. Joan writes, "The PROBARS really called to me. Thanks so much for making this a winning day - I never win anything!" Enjoy, and thanks for reading, Joan!

Did you happen to catch the recent four-part HBO documentary series, "The Weight of the Nation"? I watched most of it and plan to catch up on the rest. It's hard to resist that story, even though I was already fully aware of America's obesity crisis; all you have to do is look around.

It's all at once astounding, frightening and heartbreaking to see the growing girth of not just adults but of children, as well. To hear experts from leading research institutions along with struggling individuals and families talk about it made it that much, er, bigger and more urgent.

Here's one scary statistic: In 2010, over 64 percent of people were overweight or obese, and the number continues to climb. Steering clear from becoming a statistic might seem rather obvious, yet if it is that obvious, why do people continue to struggle with their weight? Perhaps it's too overwhelming to deal with, as life can be so complicated while people are pulled in so many directions. Maybe weight comes dead last behind the everyday and overwhelming tasks of working, caring for a family, juggling finances and finding time to exercise. Oh, I'll think about that tomorrow, people think. I'm not really that overweight … I'm doomed because of my genetics … after menopause there's nothing I can do … I just don't care all that much; vanity is not my thing.

What defines obesity? A common and somewhat reliable measure for adults is your BMI (body mass index). You're considered overweight if it's between 25 and 29.9 and obese if it is higher than 30. (Curious how to calculate yours? I'll supply the handy link from the CDC at the end of this post.)

But weight goes way beyond vanity. You should care: there are too many implications and reasons not to. Here are some startling facts from the series.

For adults:

  • One study showed that obese people, compared with normal-weight folks, are 83 percent more likely to develop kidney disease.
  • Obesity costs the workforce an estimated $73.1 billion per year.
  • In the 25 years between 1987 and 2010, the number of Americans diagnosed with diabetes almost tripled to 20.9 million.
  • Americans should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-intense activity every week, according to the Physical Activity Guidelines.
  • One in four adults gets no leisure-time moderate or vigorous activity.
  • Foods obtained outside the home tend to be higher in calories and fat than food prepared at home.
  • Being overweight puts you at increased risk of dangerous diseases and conditions like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis and certain cancers.

For children:

  • Approximately 12.5 million children and adolescents aged 2-19 (17%) are obese.
  • The percentage of children between 6 and 11 in the United States who were obese increased from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 20 percent in 2008.
  • Ninety percent of parents with obese children do not seek medical help.
  • Half of all obese teenage girls will become extremely obese by their early 30s.
  • Children and adolescents consume not only too much sugar-sweetened beverages (the largest source of sugar in their diets), but too much media, too (more than 7.5 hours a day, 7 days a week).
  • Preschool children, according to Nielsen data, were exposed to 50 percent more TV ads for energy drinks in 2010 compared to 2008.
  • The Physical Activity Guidelines for American children recommend a daily dose of 60 minutes of physical activity.
  • In schools, daily physical education is sparse: only 4 percent of elementary schools, 8 percent of middle schools and 2 percent of high schools provide it.
  • On average, kids who spend more time playing outdoors are more physically active and less likely to be overweight; they also have better blood pressure and cholesterol than those who don't.

Fact: To burn off an average serving of French fries, a 150-pound adult needs to run for 1.5 hours at a speed of 5 mph or walk for 3.13 hours at 2 mph.

Here's how to calculate your BMI

For more information about the HBO series, click here.


Yikes! I wish I knew how to make my overweight sons pay attention. Everyone seems to think the statistics include somebody else--not them.

I am always frustrated by information like this because people who are overweight know they are overweight. A list of the risks does not help me actually lose weight.

I know I need to lose weight. But it seems like these shows and studies keep repeating the same dangers over and over. I don't know, maybe that's what it takes, but dosn't hitting someone over the head with the risks contiually run the risk of desensitizing, much like seeing violence contiually?

I think people need to stretch their minds to understand why so many people are obese in American society, something that does not happen in most other countries where Europeans live. (I say Europeans because that's what Henry Louis Gates calls us on his show about ancestors.) I think obesity has to do with endocrine disruptors, absorbed by mothers during pregnancy. Then, of course, diet also plays a role. And, it's important to exercise. It is heartbreaking that no one (in a position of power, ie. government) has yet been able to turn around this trend.

I just learned this and it makes perfect sense to me. The biggest motivator to lose weight is joy, not a lot of scary statistics. People don't react to those like everyone thinks they should.

Those stats are really eye opening and very sobering.

Kind of a topic drift, but along with eating healthy, have you seen this? http://www.terrywahls.com/ Dr. Wahls is an MD who has essentially cured her MS with a healthy diet. The TED Talk is worth watching! It definitely encouraged me to incorporate even more greens into my day. Eating this way is bound to help with weight loss/health, too!

No dessert for me tonight :-)

Thanks for such a great write-up! Statistics link the overweight/obesity epidemic with moms working outside the home, starting in the 1970s. It's interesting to think of all the social forces that may have led us to the point.

The more I learn about this plague, the more complex it seems. Somehow, we seem to have created a perfect storm that is going to be incredibly difficult to solve. I want it to be simple -- eat less, exercise more -- but it goes way beyond that.


I have been hearing about these statistics. And about those French fries--the kind that come in a Happy Meal used to be the adult size. I'm not sure what the magic formula is for reversing the trend--around our house, we're trying to eat better, stay active, and keep everything in moderation.

I just find that it's SO much harder to lose weight as I get older. Ridiculously hard - but not impossible! I was always way too skinny - had trouble keeping the 110 lbs. I had. Now that number is so far away, it's like some dream in the mist. Not that I want to be that thin, but wouldn't mind losing 20 or 30 lbs.

As a nutritionist, it seems that it's the combination of lack of exercise and eating large portions of fat-laden foods. Interestingly, there are studies showing that even 15 to 20 minutes of very very high intensity exercise every day can be beneficial.

Ruth said it well: We have created a perfect storm where now eating less and exercising more may not be enough to lose the kind of weight that can help your health.

When was this article written?

May 2012


Add new comment