On The Table

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Obesity in America: Statistics, Prevention, and Treatment

America continues to face an obesity epidemic, in which the overwhelming statistics make it clear solutions are needed for a healthier future.

Obesity in America: Statistics, Prevention, and Treatment

Obesity is a growing epidemic, affecting the health of millions of Americans. The rising health concern spreads throughout all generations, too.

These increasing rates are worrisome, as people considered obese increase their risk of long-term health conditions. What's more, precious years of life can be shaved off.

As the rates grow, though, health professionals and enthusiasts alike are working to pinpoint prevention and treatment options. Find out where the health of America currently stands and how the nation can be changed for the better.

Current Obesity Rates in America

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes obesity as "weight that is higher than what is considered as a healthy weight for a given height."

According to the CDC National Center for Health Statistic Data Brief, the prevalence of obesity was 39.8 percent and affected about 93.3 million US adults in 2015 and 2016. Other key findings related to obesity facts included:

• The prevalence of obesity was higher among middle-aged adults (42.8 percent) than among younger adults (35.7 percent).

• The overall prevalence of obesity was higher among non-Hispanic black and Hispanic adults than among non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic Asian adults.

• The observed change in prevalence between 2013 and 2014 and 2015 and 2016 was not significant among both adults and youth.

But the public health issue is not only confined to adults, as younger generations are facing obesity. In fact, childhood obesity is quite prevalent and affects almost 14 million children and adolescents. The rates are observed to be higher among youth aged 6 to 11 years (18.4 percent) and adolescents aged 12 to 19 years (20.6 percent). This is compared to children aged 2 to 5 years (13.9 percent).

How Is Obesity Diagnosed?

Body mass index (BMI) is used as a screening tool for overweight and obesity. BMI is a measure of body fat, is derived using height and weight (mass), and applies to adult men and women. 

The equation for BMI is kg/m2, in which kg is a person's weight in kilograms and the m2 is the height in meters squared. In imperial units, the formula is BMI = lbs. x 703/in2.

Body mass index is not the most accurate measure of validating weight status, though, as it discounts gender, muscle mass, and age. That being said, diagnosing obesity may also include taking a waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio (WHR).

Certain blood tests can also help rule out certain health conditions that can impact weight, including hypothyroidism and polycystic ovary syndrome.

What Causes Obesity?

Obesity is a complex health condition, though it is mostly related due to many factors. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

• Genetic factors and family history of obesity

• Lifestyle factors, particularly related to poor diet and lack of physical activity

• Socioeconomic factors, including non-access to healthy food

• Certain health conditions and medication side effects

Despite the causes of what may have led to obesity, there are many health risks that can arise.

Health Risks of Obesity

Excess body weight increases the risk of a number of health conditions. Some of the most common consequences of obesity include:

• Heart disease

• Type 2 diabetes

• Hypertension

• Certain cancers

• Arthritis and joint problems

• Sleep apnea

• Low self-esteem and confidence

• Anxiety and depression

Obesity is also linked to premature death. Research published in the American Journal of Public Health has also found obesity significantly shapes United States mortality levels.

Prevention & Treatment Options for Obesity

There is not a single and simple solution when it comes to preventing and treating obesity, as it requires active participation across the board. This includes a comprehensive approach at the national, community, local, and individual levels.

But individually committing to and setting goals towards a healthy lifestyle can lower overweight and obesity statistics as a whole. Deterring obesity rates mostly include making sustainable lifestyle changes mostly related to diet and exercise. For some, bariatric surgery may also be an option.

1. Consult with a doctor.

First and foremost, consult with a doctor before beginning any sort of weight loss program. This is particularly important if managing a health condition such as diabetes.

A doctor may prescribe a specific calorie diet to control food intake. They may also recommend other healthcare professionals beneficial for improving physical, mental, and emotional health. These may include the assistance of a:

• Dietitian, who is an expert trained in the field of nutrition.

• Personal trainer for safe and effective fitness guidance.

• Counselor that may use certain behavior therapies.

• Endocrinologist, particularly if hormones are involved and imbalanced.

2. Make sustainable and realistic goals.

People often attempt to reach some goal weight that is just unrealistic, maybe even a weight they have never been at or were 20 years ago. However, losing 1 to 2 pounds per week is often recommended for lasting results.

Making “SMART” goals can be the most effective way to meet targets, as they show to have the greatest compliance. SMART is an acronym for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.

Keep in mind, though, not all goals need to be weight-based. Solely fixating on weight loss can provoke anxiety, lead to chronic yo-yo dieting, and increase the risk of additional health concerns. Diminish such harmful consequences and shift your focus from strictly weight loss to overall health and wellness.

Adopting a healthier lifestyle can naturally lead to weight loss while gifting a more positive mindset to keep motivated. For example, instead of fixating on the number on the scale, make a goal to drink more water or eat a high-protein breakfast each morning.

Also, stay focused and achieve goals with these tips:

• Write down goals, as research shows people who write them out are more likely to achieve them.

• Monitor progress along the way, tweaking and modifying as needed.

• Use visual reminders that harness your "why," which may include a picture of a loved one.

• Build a trusted support team, which may include family members, friends, or a gym community.

• Gift non-food-based rewards when meeting objectives, including a massage or new workout shoes.

3. Adopt a healthy diet.

Diet is one of the biggest, if not the largest, influencer of weight gain and/or loss. A poor diet high in calories and devoid of nutrients is thought to be a primary driving force behind obesity rates.

Consulting with a doctor or dietitian is helpful for determining a calorie goal and making dietary recommendations. And unless instructed and guided by a healthcare professional, do not restrict calories to less than 1,200 daily.

As a whole, though, consume a healthy diet rich in nutrient-dense foods. These include whole grains, fruits and veggies, lean and plant-based proteins, and healthy fat sources.

Using these plating methods can help ensure nutrient needs are met while naturally controlling calories:

• Fill half the meal plate with non-starchy vegetables, including roasted broccoli or leafy greens.

• Allocate one-quarter of the plate with 3 to 4 ounces of protein such as chicken or sirloin.

• Use the remaining quarter for starch and complex carb. This may include brown rice or small sweet potato.

• Complement the meal with a healthy fat source. For instance, drizzle olive oil over salad greens of add some avocado to the meal.

• Feel free to add a small serving of fruit or dairy.

4. Include exercise.

When paired with a healthy diet, exercise can help manage weight. Pairing cardio and strength training also supports heart health, a healthy metabolism, amongst many other benefits.

Consider these tips when starting a fitness regimen to exercise the right way:

• The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of cardio per week. This breaks down to 30 minutes on most days.

• Incorporate strength training at least two to three times a week, too. Target the major muscle groups, including the back, chest, core, arms, and legs. Lift an appropriate weight and focus on good form over cranking out haphazard reps.

• Slowly increase intensity and duration over several weeks or months to prevent injury. This may include brisk walking for a couple of weeks, then slowly transitioning into a light jog.

• Start workouts with light activity and warm-ups such as jumping jacks and a light walk or jog. Doing so warms up muscles and starts to elevate heart rate.

• Following a workout, be sure to cool down to bring down the heart rate. Stretch while muscles are still warm, too.

Beyond structured strength training and cardio, there are many ways to be active throughout the day such as:

• Starting the day with a light jog.

• Walking the dog around the neighborhood after dinner.

• Taking a family bike ride or hike on a nature trail.

• Parking further away from door entrances at work, stores, etc.

Ultimately, the most importance is not how you choose to be active, just that you are!

5. Consult about weight loss surgery.

Also known as bariatric surgery, weight loss surgery is a procedure that makes anatomical changes to the stomach, small intestine, or even both.

It is not a suitable option for all, though it can lead to a happier and healthier life for others. There are a few different types of weight loss surgeries one might undergo, including:

• Gastric bypass

• Gastric band

• Gastric sleeve

• Biliopancreatic diversion with duodenal switch

All things considered, even with the surgery, these weight-loss strategies require long-term compliance to a healthy lifestyle. A support system, including with health professionals and loved ones, can be invaluable for success.