After the Surgeon General announced in 2001 that Americans had the highest body mass index (BMI) rating internationally, much of American culture has changed. Instead of ordering a super sized big mac meal ad McDonald’s, customers are opting for low-calorie options such as snack wraps or salads. Some Americans have given up fast food all together. Along with government and non-profit organization attempts to help Americans become less obese, many people have begun their own personal attempts at lowering their BMI. These efforts include but are not limited to going to the gym, changing their diet, and helping to influence the health habits of others. While these efforts have been well under way for over a decade, it appears that America’s obesity rankings have remained the same and even increased. But, like the attempts made by people to conquer smoking, concurring the obesity epidemic is going to take time and change.
Although many aspects of American society are getting healthier: McDonald’s has become a considerably healthy establishment, the last fifteen years or so has seen a spike in the organic and natural foods industry and, in part due to First Lady Michelle Obama’s “get fit” programs, it has become increasingly more important for Americans to exercise and consume healthier foods and yet, in 2011, obesity rates increased in 16 states and the rates did not decline in any state (F as in Fat). According to F as in Fat: How obesity threatens America’s future 2011, a report from Trusts for Americans Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), 12 states now have obesity rates above 30 percent; merely four years ago, only one state had a percent ranking that high. Shocked by these statistics the report examined exactly how obesity has grown over the past two decades (F as in Fat).
Twenty years ago, no state had an obesity rating of above 15 percent. This year, in contrast, 38 out of the 50 US states produced obesity ratings of over 25 percent. For the 7th year in a row, Mississippi has maintained its leading spot as the number one state with the highest level of adult obesity (F as in Fat). The report noted that the fastest growing obesity levels reside in the south: Alabama and Tennessee have experienced intensified rates; this year, the slowest growing levels occurred in Washington DC, Colorado and Connecticut. The highest obesity rates remain in racial and ethnic minority adults, along with low-income families (F as in Fat).
While American’s might be seemingly be increasingly getting fatter, many public health experts are claiming that it might be too soon to see an increase in American obesity levels due to the fact that the nations efforts to slim down have only begun in recent years (Rochman). The fact that obesity rates are not reclining has nothing to do with the fact that public health programs are not promoting healthier diets along with more physical activity. Or, that an individual’s personal goals and efforts to obtain their dream weight are not working. Dr. William Dietz, director of the division of nutrition for the CDC, claims that efforts to ward off obesity are in fact working fine. Comparing the anti obesity efforts to the 1950 anti-smoking efforts when medical professionals released the conclusive evidence about the link between smoking and cancer, the doctor asserts that for approximately 15 years, smoking rates remained at a plateau and even increased for sometime (Rochman). It is the same concept with tackling the issue of obesity in America: it needs time and further developed tactics to achieve reduced levels.
Ironically, these medical professionals are basing their evidence off of a faulty scale for evaluating a person’s body fat percentage. The BMI system, which is a ratio of height to weight uses criteria that is neither gender or age specific in men and women over the age of 15. The system also fails at identifying the difference between a person’s muscle mass with their actual body fat; since muscle weighs more than fat, a physically fit and healthy human would appear obese. Based on the fact that the nation’s current obesity levels were raked based on a system that is not accurate, it is impossible to accurately identify weather or not Americans are actually getting fatter or fitter.
There needs to be an alternative system to the BMI. According to a 2004 study conducted by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, calculating a persons’ waist circumference (WC) as opposed to their BMI is a better predictor of obesity risk and illnesses that come with being overweight than the BMI system. LiveStrong.com article Alternatives to BMI confirms this theory by stating that measuring the natural waist can give an almost accurate indication of the amount of abdominal fat a person contains. Women with WC of 35 inches or more and men with a WC of 40 inches or more are considered to be risk factors (Holley, Casey). People who are in the “risky range” are more likely to develop side effects of obesity such as diabetes and heart failure. The WC is as simple as measuring a person’s belt size; to make it more accurate, doctors factor in other elements of a patient’s medical history. This enables them to find out what diseases each individual person is capable of developing. WC is more effective than the BMI because it calculates a person on an individual scale, not the wide ranged scale that is used for the BMI. Although these studies are not yet widely approved by national medical professionals, they are quickly on their way to being approved and providing a better method of calculating how obese a person is.
If Americans are to truly end the obesity epidemic a few things need to take place. First, we need to give it more time. Although ten years might seem like enough time to impact an entire nation, that is not the case. It took almost 15 years for people to acknowledge that smoking cigarettes is dangerous; the fight against smoking is still a current struggle. The fight against obesity will not be quick, but eventually, America’s obesity rates will decline. Second, we need to alter the system by which doctors and medical scientists are measuring obesity. The BMI system has proved to be unreliable and all other plausible systems are not yet universally accepted. Medical scientists should focus on finding the most accurate system of measuring how overweight a person actually is. Loosing weight does not happen over night, it takes change and it takes time. The entire American population needs the time to embrace this change not only to lower their own personal obesity level, but also the obesity level of the nation as a whole.
F as in Fat. “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2011.” – Trust for America’s Health. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Etc. Web. 12 Apr. 2012. <http://www.healthyamericans.org/report/88/>.
Rochman, Bonnie, Maia Szalavitz, and Alice Park. “CDC: U.S. Obesity Rates Plateau Overall, But Men and Boys Are Getting Fatter | Healthland | TIME.com.” Time. Time. Web. 12 Apr. 2012. <http://healthland.time.com/2012/01/17/u-s-obesity-rates-remain-stubbornly-high