Two-thirds of American adults are either obese or overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The obesity rate among women in their 40s and 50s has risen to 42 percent compared to 38 percent among middle-aged men. Across all adult age groups, in terms of obesity rate, women are at 38 percent compared to 34 percent of men – the obesity rate for women is on the rise, while it has plateaued for men.
Looking at it another way: today’s average U.S. woman, at 166 pounds, weighs the same as the average American male of the 1960s.
The obesity rates among women are even more pronounced for some minorities. Fifty-seven percent of African-American women are considered obese (defined as a body mass index [BMI] of 30 or more), with 46 percent of Hispanic women filling out that box on the checklist of health concerns. “The biggest problem is that the obesity rate among low-income Americans and minorities are not improving,” said University of North Carolina obesity expert Barry Popkin, quoted at npr.org.
Researchers for a study published in 2016 in the journal JAMA, per time.com, found that between 2005 and 2014 there were “significant and steady increases in the number of American women who were very obese.” American adults are fatter than ever – in less than 40 years, per health.harvard.edu, the prevalence of obesity in the U.S. has increased by a whopping 50-plus percent.
What’s Driving the Obesity Epidemic?
Scientists still struggle to determine the exact cause(s) of obesity. A 2012 article at health.harvard.edu posits that genetics may be in part responsible along with various combinations of hormonal, metabolic and behavioral aspects. Also to be considered are the use of antibiotics in food production and medicine, growth-enhancing drugs used on food animals, artificial sweeteners, pesticide chemicals that are known endocrine disruptors and even the borderline brainwashing marketing tactics used by the purveyors of fast food.
Ultimately, we are all individually responsible for what we put into our bodies, but there’s no question there are agricultural, food-processing and marketing forces at work in the U.S. (and elsewhere around the world) that make being a fully informed (and disciplined eater) a nearly impossible task. Case in point: sugar beets, a common source of what American consumers know as “regular sugar,” which reportedly has been genetically engineered and therefore may in fact be toxic, “courtesy of elevated pesticide contamination,” as renowned health expert Dr. Joseph Mercola puts it.
Factors Contributing to Rising Obesity Rates
Following is a summary of the factors most often identified as key contributors to weight gain in America. Want to lose weight? Consider doing something about whichever of these you have control over:
- Today’s workplace. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, cited at health.harvard.edu, fewer than 20 percent of private sector jobs required at least moderate physical activity compared to nearly 50 percent of jobs in 1960.
- Recreation/exercise. Objective measurements of adults who perform a recommended 30 minutes of daily exercise is just over 5 percent compared to the 25 percent who claim they meet national guidelines for leisure-time exercise. The gap between saying and doing apparently is rather significant.
- Eating habits. There are plenty of numbers and studies that could be crunched here, but for the sake of space, here’s one telling stat offered by University of North Carolina researchers breaking down data from four national surveys: over a 30-year period: the average number of meals plus snacks consumed by Americans has risen from 3.8 a day to 4.9. Those extra calories – perhaps 100 here, 200 there – add up.
- Diet itself. It’s veritable tug of war: on one end of the rope are doctors, nutritionists, exercise physiologists and other health professionals; gripping the other end are the food and entertainment industries pushing back with, as health.harvard.edu puts it, seductive ads that, well, trump somber warnings. Ask yourself: who do you believe? Hint: pay attention! Look at this another way: on one serving table, you have potato chips, potatoes, sugar-sweetened beverages, red meat and processed food. On the other: fruits, vegetables, while grains, nuts and yogurt. Your choice, and your responsibility. Speaking of which.
- Leptin resistance. Leptin, according to Mercola, is a hormone that helps us regulate our appetites. Refined sugar, particularly fructose, has been shown to produce leptin resistance in animals while also restricting the burning of fat. Bad news on both fronts for us. Being overweight is often accompanied by insulin and leptin resistance – in the case of the latter, that can often mean not knowing when we are full, and we keep on eating. Presto, weight gain.
- Watching TV (or whatever else you do that involves leisure sitting for hours on end). It shouldn’t take a study to tell you that the people who watch the most TV gain the most weight. Some experts say three hours a day of leisure-time sitting should be the max. Want to watch more than three hours of TV? It’s not against the law to stand up from time to tome—it does make a difference, and standing burns more calories than sitting.
- Sleep habits. A healthy target is seven to eight hours of sleep a night. Those who get fewer than six or more than eight tend to gain weight.
- Alcohol. Granted, drinking a small amount of alcohol a day apparently can reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke, yet studies have shown that just one drink a day can provide enough extra calories to mean a gradual weight gain of 10 pounds in a year.