Overcoming Obesity in America

I wanted to focus on obesity because I can help not only educate people about how to stay healthy to avoid obesity and its negative effects, but also about how much obesity prevalence varies based on race, income, and even education. In addition, this issue is important to me because obesity cases are going up every day and they will continue to do so unless we make a change. Although it may seem easy to prevent obesity, it really depends on the person and their unique situation. There’s way more things to factor in than you might think, but I’ll explain more about that later.

To start off, what is obesity? How is it different from just being overweight? How do you know if you’re obese? Obesity is diagnosed based on someone’s weight in comparison to their height and age. This is called BMI, or body mass index. It’s used to find out how much body fat a person has. Because this system doesn’t directly measure your body fat, it can sometimes be inaccurate with muscular people, such as athletes. Generally though, obesity is diagnosed when a person has a BMI over 30. To put that into perspective, a 5’5 woman would have to weigh a minimum of 180 lbs to be considered obese. She’d have to weigh 150 lbs to be considered overweight. If she weighed between 115 and 145 lbs, she’d be at a healthy weight. As you can probably tell, being obese and being overweight are not the same thing. You’re at a healthy weight if your BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9, you’re overweight if it’s between 25 and 29.9, and you’re obese if it’s 30 or more. Simply put, obesity is just a more severe version of being overweight. If you want to find out your BMI, the quickest way to do so is by using a BMI calculator. It multiplies your weight in pounds by 704.5, divides that by your height in inches, and then divides that number by your height again.

A combination of weight and height makes up your BMI

Now, I said before that obesity cases are going up and it’s becoming a bigger problem every day, but just how many cases are there? According to State of Childhood, “[In America,] adult obesity rates now [September 2020] exceed 35% in 12 states, 30% in 35 states and 25% in 48 states.” 23 out of 50 states had an adult obesity rate between 30% and 34.9%. That’s a lot of obesity cases! But why is this bad? What’s the worst that can happen to someone with obesity? NIDDK says that “Overweight and obesity are risk factors for many health problems such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, joint problems, and gallstones, among other conditions.”

So what causes obesity? How can it be prevented? Very Well Health has some tips. In addition to the more well-known strategies such as staying active and following a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep every night is vital to having a healthy lifestyle. Some basic principles of healthy eating are limiting processed foods, artificial sweeteners, and saturated fats; drinking more water; and eating five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables a day. It’s recommended that the average adult gets at least 150 minutes of exercise per week, or 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. This seems like a lot, right? What about things to avoid in order to prevent obesity? Well, chronic stress has been proven to cause weight gain, so it’s important to take time to relax by doing yoga, listening to music, or meditating. Also, a late bedtime is known to have bad effects on the body, one of which is weight gain. The recommended nightly amount of sleep for adults is 7 or more hours. Lastly, Mayo Clinic says that “the number of hours you spend in front of a screen is highly associated with weight gain.” This is part of why some people have started using standing desks or biking desks during the pandemic. This is a great way to stay active if you have to be in front of a computer for many hours a day.

A biking or standing desk is a convenient way to avoid sitting at a desk all day while still getting work done.

According to the CDC, the problem with obesity isn’t just the effects and the overall number of cases, but also the disproportionality in cases based on socioeconomic status. As a reminder, “obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer that are some of the leading causes of preventable, premature death.” Obesity isn’t bad only because it comes with some major health risks, but it also contributes to inequality in the US. There are, unfortunately, certain factors that can unfairly influence whether or not one ends up with obesity. Take race for example. As of 2017-18, non-hispanic black adults had the highest obesity prevalence (49.6%), followed by hispanic adults (44.8%), non-hispanic white adults (42.2%), and non-hispanic asian adults (17.4%). In terms of education, the CDC reported that “overall, men and women with college degrees had lower obesity prevalence compared with those with less education.” In addition, the CDC found that income directly affects obesity rates. A pattern was observed: people in the highest income group had a lower obesity prevalence compared to that of those in the middle and lowest income groups. All of this shows that obesity is dangerous not only to the health of the American population, but to the people who are at a disadvantage solely because of race, education, or income.

To sum things up, I’ve learned a great deal about obesity in the short time I’ve been studying it. I find it fascinating how differently each individual is affected by it because of how different their situation is from the next person. In the future, I want to learn more about how genetics affect your chances of being obese. I didn’t focus as much on that as I could’ve because it was more important to learn about how dangerous obesity is, but I’m happy with the amount of research I’ve done overall. It’s helped me understand obesity in depth and I’m glad I chose it as my topic.

Annotated Bibliography