Obesity Increasing Among Americans

November 19, 2010 by · Comments Off 

By Elena Harding
eharding@smu.edu

Have you seen an overweight person today? Chances are you have, and if current trends continue, the majority of Americans may be overweight or obese in 20 years.

According to the Sept. 23 study “A Heavy Burden” from George Washington University, half of all Americans will be obese by the year 2030 if the current trajectory continues. Another organization that operates out of George Washington University is Strategies To Overcome and Prevent, Obesity Alliance, or STOP. STOP predicts 100 percent of Americans could be obese by 2048.

Todd Whitthorne, president and chief executive officer of Cooper Concepts, Inc., and executive director of Cooper Wellness Program, a division of Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas, said being overweight or obese is a side effect of modern society. Whitthorne said today in America people do not have to move if they do not want to, and they eat more then they need to.

“Then you factor in stress, you factor in comfort food and all the different things and the next thing you know you have a population where 68 percent of Americans are either overweight or obese,” Whitthorne said.

Not everyone agrees with the predictions. Cynthia Odgen, who studies the causes and controls of epidemic diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Maryland, said the increase in obesity has been stabilizing in the last decade.

“We know that the prevalence increased rapidly in the ’80s and the ’90s and then in the last decade there has been a slowing down, if not even a plateauing, in the prevalence,” Ogden said.

A study published in January in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which Ogden co-authored, found that there were no significant differences from 2003 to 2008 for men once the analysis was adjusted for variables like age, racial and ethnic group. Similar conclusions were found for women from 1999 to 2008.

An obese person is defined as someone with a BMI, or body mass index, of 30 or above. An overweight person has a BMI greater than 25 but less than 30. Normal weight is a BMI over 18.5 and under 25. Underweight is anything under 18.5.

Find out which category you fall under here. Type in your height and weight. The website will calculate BMI from this information as well as ideal body weight, fat mass and other related information.

Although there is disagreement about how fast the obesity rate will rise or whether it is stabilizing, experts agree that the current rate is still too high. Texas experienced a statistically significant increase in adult obesity last year according to F as in Fat, an annual report from Trust for America’s Health, a tax-exempt advocacy organization.

Albert Lang, communications manager for Trust for America’s Health, said Texas tied with Ohio and was ranked the 13th most obese state in the nation. The obesity rate among adults in Texas is 29 percent. Texas ranks seventh in the U.S. for childhood obesity with 20.4 percent obesity among Texas children.

The study showed racial, regional and income disparities among the nation’s obese population. In 40 states, whites had a lower obesity rate than both African-Americans and Hispanics. People are also more likely to be obese in the south, which has 10 out of 11 of the highest adult obesity rates in the nation.

Income is another important factor in obesity. Adults who earn less than $15,000 a year are 10.8 percent more likely to be obese than adults who earn $50,000 or more.

Lang said there are many factors that contribute to the obesity of Texas. The high cost of food, unsafe neighborhoods and adult activity are big contributors. He said people who live in low income neighborhoods without services like their wealthier counterparts face additional challenges to maintaining a healthy weight and eating right.

“A person who lives in a neighborhood that doesn’t have access to a grocery store makes it really difficult to get the fresh and healthy foods,” Lang said. “You’re turning to the more processed foods which are not the best for you.”

In addition to a lack of access to healthy foods, a lot of communities do not have safe sidewalks or playgrounds, which give community members the opportunity to exercise in a safe manner without having to worry about crime or traffic.

On top of the health problems associated with obesity, including chronic diseases such as type II diabetes, it costs individuals more money to be obese or overweight than to be a normal weight.

‘A Heavy Burden’ from George Washington University estimated the annual costs of being overweight and obese in the United States. After analyzing factors like health costs, work-related costs and personal costs, the study approximated the overall tangible costs of being obese are $4,879 for women and $2,646 for men.

When the value of lost life-5.2 years for white males and 4.3 years for white females-is factored in, the cost jumps to $8,365 for women and $6,518 for men. The costs of being overweight-$524 for women and $432 for men-are much lower than the costs of being obese.

Medical bills are the most obvious cost associated with the overweight and obese. The study found that for overweight people, medical expenses make up $346 of the increased cost for overweight women (66 percent) and men (80 percent). Medical expenses make up the bulk of costs for obese men, at $1,474 or 80 percent. However, the same amount only makes up 30 percent of the costs for obese women.

The disparity in the cost of obesity between men and women is largely due to lost wages. Wages make up the second-largest cost for obese women of all races at $1,855 annually. This cost is even more significant when compared to men who lost no wages due to their extra weight. Other work-related costs, such as disability, sick leave and productivity, cost obese women $1,408, mostly due to sick leave, and obese men $1,028.

Because there are no published academic studies on consumer-related costs other than gasoline costs, they are an approximation. According to ‘A Heavy Burden:’ “anecdotal evidence suggests these costs could be significant.”

Susan MacGray is a Weight Watchers ambassador, diamond leader and member in Dallas. Weight Watchers is a weight loss program that includes a support group and assigns point values to food to make it easier to stay within healthy caloric intake each day.

She became a lifetime member three years ago when she reached her weight loss goal and has maintained that weight ever since. MacGray speculated that additional costs may be associated with assistive devices, like a bar to aid getting in and out of a bathtub, sold at specialty stores.

“Specialty stores for larger women are going to be more expensive than if you just went to Target,” MacGray said.

Global News Blog: My Big Fat Greek Diet

November 5, 2010 by · Comments Off 

Posted by Chandler Richards

Obesity may not appear to be an issue on our seemingly fit campus. Walk into Dedman at anytime and you’ll find Lululemon clad girls logging miles on the treadmill and muscular frat boys lifting weights, but that doesn’t mean obesity is not a problem. Currently, obesity is one of the biggest health risks facing our nation.

According to a Gallup poll, 63.1 percent of adults in the U.S. were either overweight or obese in 2009. Our country is taking baby steps towards conquering this disease with prevention strategies such as exercise and healthy eating. Trendy gyms are popping up all over, and fad diets like Atkins, South Beach, “detox cleanses,” and that weird Japanese banana diet are taking the country by storm.

Health experts have even recommended adopting the “Mediterranean Diet,” which has been long attributed to lower risks of cancer and heart disease, and, not surprisingly, longer life spans.

But what happens when one of the world’s leaders in healthy eating and living falls victim to the Western influence of fast food?

Recently, Greece, the birthplace of the famous “Mediterranean Diet” has become plagued with soda machines, fast-food joins and convenient packaged junk food. Nearly two thirds of Greek children are now overweight, and it’s not getting better.

A Greek man concerned about the growing epidemic told the New York Times, “If we continue like this, we’re going to become like Americans, and no one wants that.”

Clearly, the “American way” is not always the right way. If we want to continue being viewed as a world leader, we need to not only erase the “fat, arrogant American” stigma, but also start setting a better example by showing Greece that they shouldn’t be conforming to our culture, but rather we should be conforming to theirs.

So, put down that hamburger, embrace your inner Greek, head to your grocer’s produce aisle, and start cooking.

Opinion Blog: Obesity in America

April 27, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Posted by Elizabeth Siebman

Shopping with my boyfriend is always a struggle, especially in the produce aisle.

I don’t mind spending extra money for organic products, while my frugal-minded boyfriend wants to buy the basic apples, oranges, and bananas. This has resulted in numerous arguments trying to pick out items to prepare for lunch and dinner. We finally agreed on a compromise. On his week to buy, he makes the decision, on my week, I buy organic.

Obesity and nutritious living have become important concepts in American life. First Lady Michele Obama is currently addressing this growing issue in her program, “Let’s Move”. The program addresses four key components to combat childhood obesity: helping parents make healthy family choices, healthier school food, increased physical activity, and access to affordable healthy food.

It’s easy to say that better eating and exercising habits are the keys to conquering obesity but that is not entirely the case. We must also make sure that people have access to healthy foods. In Dallas, there are more grocery stores surrounding the Highland Park, University Park, and Uptown areas than the areas further south.

According to a recent article in The Atlantic, poorer neighborhoods have fewer grocery stores per capita and the convenient stores where they can purchase food contain processed, low quality foods.

This does not help to solve the growing crisis. In order to fight obesity in adults and children, fresh foods must be available to the consumers at a reasonable price.

Additionally children must learn the importance of healthy eating. Michele Obama’s program is addressing this issue as well as the new television show, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. Chef, Jamie Oliver, is addressing childhood obesity within a school located in a small West Virginian town. Oliver believes that, “[Every] child in America has the right to fresh, nutritious foods and that every family deserves real, honest, wholesome food.” Oliver stresses that better cooking at home and schools will lead to an improvement in the obesity problem.

I’m not sure if eating organic is entirely necessary, but obesity is an issue that must be addressed. A new grocery store named Aldi has appeared in the Dallas area. The store sells commonly bought items at a lower price than its competitors. They are opening several locations in areas that do not already possess a high number of grocery stores. Stores, like Aldi, will help provide healthier food to a larger number of people. It’s stepping stones like this that will eventually help solve the obesity problem in America.

You May Know More About Nutrition Than Your Doctor

April 15, 2010 by · Comments Off 

by Samantha Weinstein
sweinstein@smu.edu

Perhaps you’ve noticed it on our playgrounds or in our classrooms. Take a look around our shopping malls or our restaurants. It’s hard to ignore – America has a serious weight problem.

Over one-third of Americans today are considered obese. Cancer, heart disease, and diabetes are on the rise. Research points to a whole food, plant-based diet as the most effective way to control weight and prevent and even reverse disease, yet the majority of medical schools fail to offer adequate nutrition courses within their curriculum.

“Nutrition has a greater ability to maintain and restore health than any other surgery or drug in medicine. Nutrition covers many different ailments and produces results surprisingly quickly. It should be part of the curriculum, no question,” said Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D and author of “The China Study,” which synthesizes more than 27 years of research detailing the connection between nutrition and chronic diseases.

Medical school students receive on average about 21 credit hours of nutrition, according to a National Research Council report in 1985.  By comparison, an undergraduate nutrition major at Cornell will receive 25-40 credit hours or about 250-500 contact hours; registered dietitians will have more than 500 contact hours.

The bulk of these nutrition hours are taught in the first year of medical school, and are incorporated into other basic science courses.

Research by The Clinical Administrative Data Service of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) indicates that from 1997-1998, only 33 medical schools (26%) had a required nutrition course.

Not much has changed since the report.

Natalie Pon, a first year student at UT Southwestern Medical School in Dallas interviewed at 15 medical schools and recalls that none had a required nutrition class. There are no required nutrition courses at UT Southwestern.

In 1997, The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) developed the Nutrition Academic Award Program (NAA). The program distributed 5-year grant awards to medical schools to strengthen nutrition education, with an emphasis on preventing cardiovascular diseases, obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. From 1998-2005, 21 schools were awarded grants, including UT Southwestern.

“The funds aren’t there anymore but you can still see the influence in those 21 schools,” said Dr. Joanne Carson, Ph.D, R.D., and Professor of Clinical Nutrition at UT Southwestern.

The Clinical Nutrition course at UT Southwestern is a first year elective offered for zero credits.  It is a 12 hour course and students receive an acknowledgement on their transcript for taking it.

“I don’t think you would see graduate students say ‘I got a strong nutrition education at Southwestern,’ but it is more than at other schools,” said Dr. Carson.

Karen de Olivares, Ph.D, assistant to the Dean, and Pre-Med and Pre-Health Advisor at Southern Methodist University says that medical classes such as biology and physiology teach the underlying foundation of what effects food have on the body.

In his first book, The China Study, Dr. Campbell writes extensively on the subject of nutrition education in medical schools, as well as drug companies’ role in the problem. In it he exposes the affair between pharmaceutical companies and medical schools that has been going on for decades.

According to Campbell, pharmaceutical companies spend huge amounts of money to educate doctors about their drugs. He estimates the cost to be over $100,000 per doctor. In his book, Campbell cites multiple ways drug companies are involved in medical education, providing “meals, entertainment, and travel; educational events, which are little more than drug advertisements; and conferences, which include speakers who are little more than drug spokespeople,” among others.

 “It is a huge problem!” said Dr. Campbell. “Medical education and drug companies are in bed together, and have been for quite some time.”

Dr. Carson says pharmaceutical companies might fund research and get involved when students are in residency and fourth-year clinic duty, but they are not directly involved in education. “At UT they don’t get to touch medical students,” she says.

Americans spend $200 billion dollars a year on prescription drugs, and that figure is growing at a rate of 12 percent every year, according to data collected by IMS Health Inc., an international healthcare data and consulting company.

 “Using drugs to make people healthy is one strategy versus nutrition. Nutrition is the antithesis of drug use,” Dr. Campbell said.

Every year, 100,000 Americans die from correctly taking their prescribed medication, which makes it one of the leading causes of death in America, according to data analysis by Jason Lazarou, MSc; Bruce H. Pomeranz, MD, PhD; and Paul N. Corey, PhD.

Following the results of his research, Dr. Campbell believes that a whole food, plant-based diet is the best defense against major diseases and even has the power to cure diseases more effectively than drugs, and without the side-effects.

 “He’s an extremist and he’s not very acclaimed in the medical community,” said Dr. Carson.   

Dr. Campbell is currently Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University. He has more than seventy grant-years of peer-reviewed research funding and authored more than 300 research papers.

Carson, Campbell, and Olivares all agree that medical schools’ course curriculums are so loaded that there is no interest in adding more to them.

 “I definitely see where they are coming from,” said Pon, the medical student. “There is too much to learn, and not enough time.”

Dr. Carson believes that putting more emphasis on nutrition in medical schools could help the obesity situation in the U.S.

“More people are becoming obese and are getting heart disease. Primary care physicians need to feel comfortable advising on basic nutrition, and also when to refer a patient to a Registered Dietitian,” said Carson.

Whatever educational materials there are on nutrition are supplied by animal food and drug industry representatives, according to Dr. Campbell.

It is almost worse to get poor education than no education at all because doctors think they know what good nutrition is, but they don’t and they are giving false information to patients, he said.

“Bad food is the root of so many people’s problems,” said Pon. “I guess that is what dietitians are for.”